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What Should A Good Violin Sound Like?


Fellow

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Hi All,

I am posting here a seemded ridiculous question. I have my reason. Like many others,I have never played a real Strad or something like that class of violins. Lacking that experience and also being repeated told how great the sound is so I asked.

I know it is hard to tell anyone in words about tone, but could we use an example, say, a winner violin of Violin Society

of America, would come close? I appreciate any of your responses

in advance.

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Tone preference is all subjective... What makes a good violin a good sounding violin is that 1) it projects 2) it has an action/responsiveness that the player prefers, and 3) it has a sound that's pleasant to the listener's ear. I have heard that Strads have a more aggressive tone than Guarneris (which Guarneri...I forget).

But I read somewhere (I think it may have been something on the Fritz Reuter site) that there was a blind test done where a Strad was played along with non-Strads and people consistently guess wrong at which one was the Strad.

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There are ranges of sound, of course. I heard a violin at church today that sounded...stringy...like a string instrument (not intending to be ridiculous) sort of a reedy sound. Mine is darker and warmer...not so "stringy" or "reedy". So....???? Which do you prefer?

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Hi,

I finished reading the article of " Sept. 22, 2003

VIOLIN DUEL A DRAW FOR ANTIQUE STRADIVARIUS, NEW INSTRUMENT

Writer: Kathleen Phillips,

about Dr. Joseph Nagyvary'S violin."

The problem I have with his test is that the players should determine which is better, not the listeners.

(I don't know if this is the right way to decide):

Let many good players try a real Strad vs Nagyvary's violin, but none of the players could take a closer look at them. For example, someone hands the violins to players and when they are ready to play.

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Listen to a recording (preferably one made after about 1960) of Grumiaux, Milstein, Szeryng, Perlman or another great violinist playing the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. That should give you an idea of what a great violin played by a great violinist sounds like. As they say in car commercials, your results may differ (mine too).

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Althought tone hues may be a question of preference, there are some features that are allways sought after by top players: focus, the instrument may allow the player to make dramatic dynamic changes in all strings and in all positions (that's very difficult to find in the G and D strings in very high positions), the instrument may allow the player to "shape" the sound, some "edge" is desirable when needed, etc.

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Most of the professional players I've met put responsiveness way ahead of the basic sound qualities of a violin, and manage to get their own sound out of almost any violin you put in their hands, so above a certain very basic level almost anything is fine, tonally.

That's why sound tests don't tell much, too, because the people who have fine instruments don't buy them just for their basic tone, but also for the facility with which they can do what they're called on to do, and a violin that is easier to play makes the violinist sound better--but this doesn't invariably show up in "tone" to an audience.

From out in front, tonal differences can be extremely difficult to separate, and if you picked a random audience, I doubt that 5% of them could tell recognize any real difference between violins, but that's the 5% that fine violins are made for, not the 95% that don't know the difference. Isn't it that way with premium things in every category?

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Yes Michael, and when we go up and up the differences between instruments can be very subtle, and even so the prices can vary a lot because of these subtleties. A soloist can pay a lot more for another Stradivari that is easier to play than the former he had, or have just 3 or 5 % more volume than the one he had.

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I read a few years ago about a similar blind test where non-players were asked to pick a Strad from among other well made violins, including modern ones, based on sound alone. The non-playing audience picked the the wrong instrument the majority of the time. When the test was repeated with experienced players, they picked the Strad every time. Seems the trained ear can hear stuff we ordinary mortals cannot, which is normal.

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The folks watching the race may not notice or care how well the cars handle--they just want to know who wins--but the guys behind the wheels of the cars on the track certainly know the difference in a way that spectators never can, and you know that definitely affects the results, even though the people in the stands may not see it.

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There have been great players, though, who seemed quite happy playing almost any one out of a quite eclectic collection of violins available to them. Of past greats Kreisler and Sammons come to mind in this regard. So even at the highest level players seem to differ in how sensitive they are to the differences between instruments provided of course that some basic, very good level of responsiveness and projection is there.

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Hi all,

I am sorry that I did not make it clear that "good" means the players think it is "good" not the "audience" think it is good. Sometime,it may not coincide.

Both "Fritz Reuter" quoted test and Nagyvary's test used only audiences. Regretably players were no part of the decision making (except playing).

A violinist told me in William Lewis and Son, Chicago in the 60's that

any violin sound passed through an electronic device was not the same as you heard directly a few feet away from a

player. "a high-fidelity question " He was very good;I was impressed. After that, I always want to hear violin sound in a raw form.

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Yes, in fact when it comes to making do with a cigar box, the best players have more of the extra reserve of talent necessary to do that than you or I would.

Something I've commonly seen is a good player picking up an inexpensive instrument and declaring "I could make this work". But that doesn't mean they wouldn't rather own a Strad. :-)

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The problem I see here is a disconnect between what players feel as they are playing, and what is transmitted to the audience. After a century or two of listening tests (even when the audience consists of musicians who are invited to play the instruments before the actual test) it has been found that their 'Which is the Strad?' guesses are no better than chance. It seems to come down to how violins behave under the bows of very good players. These players have a range of preferences, but most seem to agree that the classical instruments meet their requirements more often. This is a very cautious statement, and it has to be so.

An old dealer's argument that some very fine players failed to make an impact on the performing world because their inferior violins 'couldn't be heard' strikes me as generalized and absurd.

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I have a violin which an amateur luthier in a rural town in New Mexico found in a pawn shop and restored. I paid $300 for it. It looks beautiful, and I use it to teach. When I *speak*, the instrument vibrates. It's amazing.

It has no label and we have no idea what it is or where it came from. It doesn't seem ancient; it's not scarred or anything, but it really fills a room. The sound is rich and it doesn't take much energy to project. I have to tone it down, actually, or I'll hurt the little ears standing next to me.

T.F.

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I know what you mean. Ken told me it was in the back of the pawn shop, in an old case, in pieces, totally wrecked. But it has no label. That particular pawn shop has a lot of violins, way overpriced, and he goes in there all the time. He got it for nothing, practically, but wow, it's great. I wish I knew where it came from.

T.F.

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