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Can an average maker get lucky?


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I think he may be being more subtle that I would in saying that EVERY violin owner thinks he's got the best violin in the known universe (would anyone buy anything less than the BEST violin of everything they've seen?), and that inevitably the particular example of the maker he owns was that maker's best.

The corollary conclusion following from that is that MY violin is worth a certain percentage more than the record price for that maker, because MINE is the best one. I hardly ever meet a happy owner who feels differently about this, especially when it comes time to sell his violin, for some $$$$trange reason.

Of course you don't own the violin you're talking about, apparently, but the same logic applies: everyone has wildly varying tastes, and thinks their taste is especially refined and better than average (except for those who confess total confusion, which is usually the more perceptive insight.)

Given that, random opinions from one person are always somewhat suspect, and I'd extend that even to those of the best players, if those opinions are separated from all other opinions (i.e., Stradivaris are famous not because one or another famous player likes them, but because of a huge consensus of agreement. Paganini may have been an impetus for the recognition of del Gesu, but the recognition exists today because of a consensus build over the last 150 years or so by many, many players.) A counter example of this is Pablo Casals' statement that Paul Kaul was the finest maker of his time. "Paul Kaul-who's that?" you ask. Even Casals couldn't make that opinion stick without help from consensus.

The nice thing about all of this, is that almost every violin eventually finds a loving home where it's "the best", after being rejected a number of times by people of widely varying tastes.

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Yes,Thank you for asking.

I am talking about "the lucky luthier" get lucky.

Someone spotted his "stand out" master piece and posted the

question. And you happened be one who knows his works.

I praised that you had the chance of knowing his work but for me with questions like "is the violin that good?"

"Compare to whose violin?" "How about one in my closet" etc.

I am not challenging anyone but wanting to satisfy myself

how I would be convined. Thank you

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Hi Falco

You said "....do you think almost all the greatest violinists of the 20th "...century through today prefer the finest Italian instruments, especially del Gesu and Strad? Because they're better, that's why. So with regard to what I was talking about, I tried an instrument from a maker that I thought was on a......."

Very true, Mr.Falco

But you know what? These great instruments were (ALWAYS) always played by very well known world class soloists.

Have you ever heard anyone who is not world class and played these kind on instruments and produced world class

sound? My experience told me not.

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"Better" is a subjective quality. I wouldn't be surprised if someone preferred violin A to violin B and violin B to violin C but preferred violin C to violin A! And even statements regarding quality of individual luthiers are fraught with contradiction. You say Stradivari was/is the best maker of all time but many concert violinists prefer Del Gesu instruments. And we could argue about craftsmanship. By some standards Del Gesu was fairly sloppy compared to, say, Stradivari. This is a case of something that is dependent on many factors being reduced to one, "better" or "worse". It can't be done consistently.

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"Have you ever heard anyone who is not world class and played these kind on instruments and produced world class

sound? My experience told me not."

Oh, sure. I know a few people of varying non-professional level who own fine violins (in a number of cases, Strads and del Gesus) and play them for their entertainment. Regardless of the player, these violins maintain their magic. I have a friend who has a small collection of nice violins, including a 1715 Strad. When we get together he plays through his violins and bows to match up what we think sounds the best. The Stradivari/Peccatte combination always comes out on top ahead of the rest of the pack, by a substantial margin, and the rest of the pack aren't bottom-feeders, either. I also know a couple of world-class players who play no non-world-class violins, and it's easy to hear that, too.

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Ha ha ha! You won't know for certain until you've played every violin ever made by that particular maker. But I will re-iterate my ealier point. Good makers are consistently producing good violins with the disclaim being if you compare a very early by a maker versus after 20 years, the difference may not be so subtle. With that said, purchase the violins you like. Don't buy a violin because it's italian or it has great investment value. Purchase that violin because you enjoy the way it plays, the way it sounds, and maybe even the way it looks. Purchase that violin because it intrinsically valuable to you. I think it is not wise to buy instruments only for its investment value.

The violin I currently play on was a commission. I knew the maker for 4 years and played a handful of his instruments before I laid down the commission. The violin was exactly what I wanted. I discussed a great deal with the maker regarding the tone, the feel, and the way it plays. Everytime I tried one of his instruments, I would tell him what I liked and not liked about it. The result was spectacular. Is my instrument the best he ever produced? Who knows! Will I trade my violin in for something better? Sure, one day, when I am ready for real a Del Gesu.

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Maybe the average maker can't get lucky, but the average player wouldn't necessarily know. People who try out famous instruments haven't always known how to get sound out of them. Often they are looking for something that is a slightly better version of what they're playing right now.

I still have my doubts that one can hear a better violin that one is not actually playing. Listening tests have been shown to be notoriously unreliable. However, playing tests--the close comparison of one instrument to another--are what drive the choice of good musicians. Subtleties like ease of string crossing, easing into a note without a harsh transient, for example--these are the things the old master violins are noted for. I suspect that very fine players are able to detect these differences, which might be missed by lesser mortals.

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Michael, I find your statement very interesting and now add "hearing" to your skills that I admire. Naturally, violin makers and violin players listen very differently. I also know an amateur who owns a Strad and a del Gesu. His playing is poor and I'm confident that I could not pick out the Strad or del Gesu in a blind test based on his playing.

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Let me formulate the answers into two equations:

(1) an amateur who owns a Strad and a del Gesu =(equal)

an amateur who owns a Strad and a del Gesu

(No chemistry)

(2) Some amateur who owns a Strad and a del Gesu = (equal

or close to) some world class soloist. ( A lot of


I am glad to know that #2 is possible. There is hope in this world. Just my thought.

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I wouldn't say chemistry is the issue in the instance I'm thinking of--it's more that if the ability to make ANY violin not sound like a chicken being killed is missing then every violin will sound like a chicken being killed. It's not a problem with the violin. A good violin makes any player better, but sometimes that's not enough.

I'm reminded of a newspaper story from when I was a kid. A child came to her beginning class and immediately sounded much better than she'd ever sounded before, and that continued for a couple of weeks until her cab driver father read that a famous soloist had lost his Strad in a cab, at which point the violin was returned to it's owner.

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I think I can re-formulate them better:

(1) an amateur who owns a Strad or a del Gesu =(equal)

an amateur who owns a Strad or a del Gesu

(like having a bird in the sky ); but

(2) Some amateur who owns a Strad or a del Gesu = (equal

or close to) a world class soloist. ( like having

a bird in his hand ) I am sorry for not using the

chicken as an example.

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Both Strads and del Gesus are widely considered to be the greatest violins, yes, some people prefer del Gesus. I didn't mean to try to rank the elites, my point was that there is a difference between the elites and the rest.

Any judgement of art is subjective but when experts and the majority of enthusiasts consider something to be great, there is something to be said for that.

Most people would agree that a Strad or del Gesu sounds better than a Collin Mezzin or EH Roth, even if it's just an opinion.

With that idea of 'better', I was just wondering if an average maker who produced mediocre sounding instruments coule get lucky with his materials and also with his craftsmanship and make something that looks and sounds as beautiful as a great maker. I've seen luck with wood play a huge part in each bow made by a bowmaker. In the case I mentioned in my first post, an instrument sounded amazing compared to the rest of the maker's work, so either he was lucky or it was due to other factors.

I don't know how this works...I know that an average violinist could never get lucky and play the Saint-Saens Rondo Capriccioso as well as Heifetz, even on their best day (perhaps it is just my subjective opinion that Heifetz is 'better' than average).

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Good makers have said that they sometimes get unlucky and make an instrument that is a dud. Maybe it’s bad wood. Mr. Darnton has remarked that there are some Strads that are not suitable for use by soloists despite the attention of skilled restorers to make them work. If the very best maker can make some unlucky instruments than it would seem reasonable that an ordinary maker might make a few outstanding instruments. There have been a lot of posts from players about great sounding violins that have little monetary value. A few duds or great sounding violins don’t change the fact that makers are judged on their total output after the violins are old and the makers are long dead.

Sure, I think an ordinary maker might get lucky. You might even find a lucky factory fiddle. It’s buried somewhere in a pile of 10,000 factory fiddles and it will still be a factory fiddle even though it sounds really great.

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Juliet Barker, who has taught hundreds of amateur makers in summer courses, remarked that occasionally a student's first instrument is exceptional-sounding. Perhaps she didn't mean Stradivari quality, but instruments made with good wood according to traditional principles nearly always turn out to be acceptable. I suspect that the best makers take things a step further and remake a top plate rather than let an occasional inferior-sounding fiddle out the door. (I know of at least one maker who does this routinely.)

Whenever I hear about a composite Strad, I wonder if a couple of his failures found their way into other makers' shops...

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Finding a "lucky" factory fiddle is different to finding an unusually outstanding instrument by an individual maker. I repeat what I've said before: Michael considers the most important elements in determining the tone of a violin to be the arching and setup. From my somewhat limited experience a as maker (as luthier I consider my level of experience to be a few notches above that as maker)I agree fully. The difference which wood can make is subtle at best. One doesn't get "lucky" with arching - some work out a bit better than others, but not enough to make a violin stand out markedly. To find this gem of a violin somewhat in the past of the maker's history for me points to the logical explanation that it has something to do with the setup, and more specifically, the neckset and the consequent influence on bridge height etc. I'm not excluding the possibility of anything else, but the most probable cause would seem to be setup.

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My very elementary view on this topic.

people ask me all the time, what makes a violin sound good?

usually, I say, what makes a Porsche a Porsche.

answer... everything.

I don't think it is all that hard for a consciensious, very sensible, reasonably proficient, attentive, thoughtful, person to make a really nice violin.

especially if he has Maestronet.

now, is that "average"?

A good violin comes "from the ground up"

setup, neck set, arching are the ground.

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If you don't mind of me to joint the discussion.

I read a book printed in 1900 by an American luthier by the name Oak.(San Fransico sp? ) He said in the book he built the box first with other parts in place too but not considered final and next was to fit a bridge and soundpost(to get the best tone) then re-work the neck and fingerboard (to make it easily playable, I guess )in that order. If that failed to his liking he opened the box to start it over. He proudly showed his 200 violins in a picture in his book. Any idea of what was he talking about?

In today term is is a process of quality control. Just wanting to be clarified if that process has merit.

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I will have to say that a Porsche is a Porsche because variables have been identified and optimised in the Lab (racing cirquit) and by intelligent engineering.

Also, electrical engineers can design perfect amplifiers because the notion has evolved based on known moduals. This is not the case with violins because there is no agreement as to what is best as to wood, and many mechanical variables. Some say to follow the "true archings" and not make mistakes which are common. I respect that point of view. On the other hand, I think that there is an optimization of materials which has not been stated or found. Engineering follows from sound analysis, (we science types are proud of that). There is a great big hole in the understanding of the violin. (and by "sound" I mean solid, backed up by testing etc. Not 'sound' in the sense of noise.)

Having said that, let me say that many violins have been made accurately with good wood. These may be deficient in interior detail, but that can be fixed. If one has a non-descript violin of high potential , I think that a few years of serious playing can make it quite good. The problem is to convince the musician. Also, the art-dealer is not going to want such a thing competing for sales against an historic article.

I will say that many have become "lucky" but you will never know about it or see it...........

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