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What Should A Good Violin Sound Like?


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Uh, yuen,

Sorry, I was responding to Michael's "suggestion". In case he needs more of a trumpet sound. By the way, these sound pretty ugly. I wouldn't choose one for charm.

Since you enticed me to respond, I'll try. I can't even begin to describe how a violin should sound, because sound is so difficult to describe. I might say the best violin is the one that allows the player to make the most beautiful sound, but some people would argue with that. They might want the most exciting sound. Or maybe the best sound for the occasion. Then we disagree about what is best. There. Does that answer the question?

I do think most of us would recognize a great violin, though, especially if we could get it in our hands.One thing I will say is that I don't agree for a moment that professionals don't choose a violin for its sound, or try to find their voice. Lots of violins just don't have it, and I don't mean just in terms of projection. I mean in terms of a nice voice. A few years ago Zukermann was demonstrating how one particular violin was just what he was looking for. It allowed him to get just the sound he wanted. Yo-yo Ma describes the wonderful treble sound of his Strad. And he is right! But he also plays another instrument. I think he is choosing which instrument to play, largely on the basis of its inherent sound.

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What is this obssesion with strads? most of us will never get to see one or play one ,I understand they are considered the best but let's be realistic a good fiddle doesn't squeak;isn't tinny; thin sounding;it resonates,has good sustain,isn't dull and plays easily.There are thousands of them out there, many which can be picked up for very reasonable sums of money.Some where made in German and French factories,others in Chinese,German and French workshops,I've played fiddles worth $500 that are excellent,well made ,good wood,arching varnish that are sweet on the ear;project well and are a pleasure to play.Remember this! the old master fiddles may be good but they are not worth the money they sell for.These prices are mainly the result of dealers and makers colluding to keep prices artificially high.NO fiddle is worth more than $5000 based on tone alone but there are plenty of music snobs out there to fall into this trap.I love this forum i'ts full of them.

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That is so true. I've never been in the same room as a Strad, whether behind a museum glass, or actually hearing anyone play one. And most of us have never even touched a Strad. So how are we to judge sound based on our limited experience? We can only try to extrapolate between something we've personally played, and the recordings (which are not true to the sound because of mics and electronics), and those instruments our teachers or orchestra mates have played. Since no one can exist between your ears besides yourself, there is no way to even begin to describe sound in a way that everyone can comprehend. I oftentimes wondered about colors too. I asked my eye doctor, how come the yellow appears more saturated through my left eye, than through my right? He doesn't know. So if even my two eyes interpret light differently, and I can test it by closing one and the other, then the way your eyes see colors is a different shade than mine. Similarly I believe this about sound. I have not done an experiment of plugging one ear and then the other, because I cannot get it totally sound proofed.

I've heard people describe the same violin as either edgy or rough, either tinny of sweet, either bright or harsh, either clean or sterile, either woody or brash. It's something you experience up close and try to put words to it, and might differ from someone else's experience. So I guess I don't know what a good violin sounds like because it depends on the player, the hearer, the piece, and the surroundings. In general we can all agree on measures such as projection, loudness, and balance. But tone is much harder to describe. I think fidleir's description of not tinny, not thin-sounding, not squeaking, resonates, has good sustain, isn't dull, plays easily, and has great balance and focus/projection is a good starting criteria. Beyond that, a violin is a personal instrument (unlike a piano), and it is the voice that person wants to or desires to project.

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One thing I will say is that I don't agree for a moment that professionals don't choose a violin for its sound, or try to find their voice. Lots of violins just don't have it, and I don't mean just in terms of projection. I mean in terms of a nice voice. A few years ago Zukermann was demonstrating how one particular violin was just what he was looking for. It allowed him to get just the sound he wanted. Yo-yo Ma describes the wonderful treble sound of his Strad. And he is right! But he also plays another instrument. I think he is choosing which instrument to play, largely on the basis of its inherent sound.


I read that is why Anne Sophie Mutter has two violins. Her first one was more crystalline and better suited to the baroque, classical period. Nowadays she prefers her second one which is edgier and has more character for the more modern works she plays. Otherwise if they can make any violin sound whatever they want, why do pros choose different violins for different venues?

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...the old master fiddles may be good but they are not worth the money they sell for.These prices are mainly the result of dealers and makers colluding to keep prices artificially high.NO fiddle is worth more than $5000 based on tone alone ...


Fidleir, I agree with 95% of what you have to say, but am forced out of lurk by the above. An instrument is worth what the market will pay for it. I believe that for you, you speak complete truth, raise the numbers a bit and you reach the level where I would figure "not worth the extra". The key to this question as I see it is "When you play one of these great violins, what about how they sound and play makes them great".

I happen to like my violin, which btw appraises below $10K, I am not a good enough player to be able to get enough more out of a $2M+ Strad to make it worth the money, but given the chance, I might appreciate the differences.

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Otherwise if they can make any violin sound whatever they want, why do pros choose different violins for different venues?


I know a player who has the use of two Strads. He mentioned once that he prefers the sound of Strad A for live performances, but likes the sound of Strad B better in recordings. Now if only everyone had that choice...

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What is this obssesion with strads? most of us will never get to see one or play one . . . ..Remember this! the old master fiddles may be good but they are not worth the money they sell for.These prices are mainly the result of dealers and makers colluding to keep prices artificially high.NO fiddle is worth more than $5000 based on tone alone but there are plenty of music snobs out there to fall into this trap.I love this forum i'ts full of them.


This is like the story of the three blind men and the elephant, except that the elephant wasn't available, and they're telling what they think of him, anyway, without knowing what an elephant is. Someone's full of something, that's for sure.

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Perlman once said that when he is in a room of people trying violins, at auctions, for example, he can immediately tell when someone is trying a Strad. I doubt, however, that I would sound much better on a Strad, although Perlman would probably sound much better on a Strad than on my violin.

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Although there is probably an average area that most agree on is a good sound from a violin, I think the rest of it is subjective and has to do with how well it is promoted and all the hype and expectations that go along with that. It's a lot like the current political scene; Some have done a great job of convincing people as to how good their message sounds. However, even if the majority thinks that it sounds great, it dosen't sound good at all to my ears!

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This is a very fascinating debate...I love your "three blind men" analogy Micheal. Many poeple admit that they've never seen or heard of a real Strad. But yet, "nobody should pay more than $5000 for a violin" . And This guy with the "cat meow" analogy...give it a rest would you please???

Like "taste", many poeple choose things in life according to what they prefer. So like many finer things in life, such as fine wine, art, music (speaking of music...), movies, fashion...there are good taste and there are "Rap music", Sport Utility Vehicle(SUV), Hummer H2, "modern arts"...anotherword, junks!! If some idiots are willing to spend lots of money to buy an "over build", over engineering pickup truck, that look like a Jeep on stereroid (Hummer H2), that sucking gas like a hoover Vaccumer to boots their manly hood...so be it!!!

On the other side of the spectrum, if some snody, rich people whose are suckered into buying a piece of junk called "modern art", it is fine too!! This is a free country. Do what ever you please...But, don't put down Strad violins, unless you have seen or played one!!!

Cheers

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Re: "nobody should pay more than $5000 for a violin", obviously many people do. It really boils down to the size of your wallet and what you think is important. I'm just glad that Bill Gates isn't into violins, because he can buy up all the Strads if he wanted to. Supposing you had the money, and you've heard a Strad or played on a Strad, then would you or wouldn't you buy it if you thought it was the most exquisite violin you've ever heard? I think this thread was about what a good violin sounds like, rather than at what price will a violin start sounding good? Or I'm confused...

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NO fiddle is worth more than $5000 based on tone alone

Read the post,You hit the nail on the head,I believe no fiddle is worth more than £5000 based on tone alone,you are right I've never played a classic violin,but you can bet your fine art;nice things, and anything else, that they don't play themselves.Their intrinsic value is in their provenance,their scarcity,their antiquity whatever.I don't have to play one, I know that their relative monetary value has nothing to do with tone alone.I recently walked into a shop in England and tried a violin by Joseph Hel of Lille(£28000)as you say in the States it was no great shakes(I'm playing a kit fiddle that I graduated and varnished myself which sounded to me, much much better.I asked the Luthier why was it so expensive;she replied "the name"not the tone why do people buy names you tell me.I'm not saying that Strads are not the best instruments ever made I don't know, what I'm saying is that they are not worth the money based on tone alone(except as a financhial investment)and that's another story.Tone is down the line when it comes to valuing classic instruments.Good tone can be got in very cheap instruments . Another point I made is the interest of dealers and makers in keeping the myth alive.

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Quite a while back, the question of "What is tone alone worth?" was raised in these threads. The answer is, "Not much." However, this does not exclude the apparent truth that there are relatively few violins that rest at the far right edge of the bell curve for the purposes of international performers. They have many reasons for their choices, prestige not least among them. They also acknowlege (as Elmar Oliveira did) that not all Strads or Guarneris are great. When they do make a change, one must assume there's a reason for it. I seem to recall Joshua Bell exchanging a lesser Strad for the Huberman Strad, for example. Did he do it for a lark? I wouldn't, if my success depended on a great sound.

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Mark, I think as a summary from the listener's position that's fine, but it doesn't explain everything about Strads and such from the player's perspective. An experienced player does hear things that make such instruments very different from others, even though many people, including inexperienced players, would not.

This discussion is currently operating on two levels: one is what skilled and informed players need as a minimum to consider a violin (like mine, for instance) minimally functional, which is different from just "tone", and second, what tickles their ears the most. They don't pay millions for the functional minimum--they can get that lots of places, often for very little money; they pay for the tickle. This, also, is "tone", in a general sort of way, and it's a mistake to think that one word, "tone", covers the whole subject from one end to the other.

Those of us who've seen a lot of photos of elephants know that they're usually small--on the order of two to five inches high, in most cases. And no elephant snob can tell me different!

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Perhaps my wording was a bit elliptical; for the most part I agree. To me, listening tests are a bit like wine tastings. Of itself, a wine may be quite well made and compare (side by side) to a much more expensive vintage. After a few bottles, though, you find yourself becoming bored. The staying power of the great wines is their complexity. Something like this may apply to great violins too. 'Tone' is a particular word relating to the magnitude of each of the harmonics of a musical note and therefore a limited concept. Among other things, it is heavily dependent on the brand of string used. The timbre imparted by the box and its attendant setup is what we're really talking about when we speak of tone. This, to me, remains a mysterious area. As you know, the response curves of great violins are all unique, but they share certain characteristics in common. The peaks are similarly disposed, and in certain places there are troughs, which means that the response is actually muted. We don't know why the human ear has selected for these characteristics, but violins that show marked departures from them are the same ones that a good player will put down after only a few strokes of the bow--much too soon to make the comparative sound judgment I referred to above. For all these reasons, I think there is something in the response--not so much the tone, of great violins that attracts the best players.

To the fiddler who posted above, I would only say that snobs may not be likable, but it doesn't mean that they are deceiving themselves, either.

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Very good analysis indeed.( I take it all in with me)

Now my question is: " Is Strads sound unique,like signature? " None can make a violin come close ?

How close? (Silly question from a limited experience person, better than the cat meow anology,I hope, kidding for only a moment not longer )

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On the other side of the spectrum, if some snody, rich people whose are suckered into buying a piece of junk called "modern art", it is fine too!! This is a free country. Do what ever you please...But, don't put down Strad violins, unless you have seen or played one!!!


A quote I've always liked: "Modern Art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and think they've found a better idea."

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The staying power of the great wines is their complexity. Something like this may apply to great violins too.


I agree. As a player I have two violins, one gets played, one sits in its case. The difference is the one I play has a more interesting and complex tone. The to a listener, both violins sound very close, to the player the difference is readily apparent. Both to me and my teacher (a retired soloist), who has tried both, and independently confirmed my perception of which is the "better" violin.

As to the player effect on tone, whether he is playing my violin (a Bohemian) or his own (Strad model), to the listener (me) the tone he produces in a living room size are is very similar, in a hall, I expect the differences in the violins would have a greater effect.

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Yes lastchair you are confused. We are still talking about sound and sound only. Money is just happen to be an artificial evaluation that seem to continuosly getting involved in many aspect of our life...it gets so bad that, if you are looking into every complex and difficult issues in life...and you get really, really confused??..All you you have to do is follow the money trail-- you will find out the true!! in the nut shelf. Anyother word, money is political...look at the current political situation in this country...it's about money...it's about greed!!!

I am not a big fan of Bill Gate. And he is not getting off my list of greedy SOB anytime soon. However, you cannot put down my guy for this one. Nor do you have to...There are plenty of B. Gate want to be that has already been hogging up all the high quality and good sounding violins. And their names are: ready?? "violins deallers". And they are scattered all over the world. Few times a year, they gather together for their harvest parties called "violin auction". And trust me, some people may say, expensive violins, in the range of 500 thousands and up are not about souding anymore, that they are about others (like Name, antique value...). Not true, it is still about sound...and you know it when you hear it!!! you wouldn't have to even ask silly question like "What Should A Good Violin Sound Like?"...because you are hopelessly in love...have you been truelly in love before??..it's like that...you can't eat, you can't sleep, you can't think straight...all you think about is how beautifull she is, how good she smell, how beautifull her voice sounds...And it will stick with you for the rest of your life...it ruin you...you will never like another violin sounding again, as long as you live. And you will take out your check book and write a check for two million dollars (if you have it. Or you're going to bounce your check), and hand it over the Shark...I mean...the violin dealler. So, not until you fall in love, you haven't heard a good sounding violin yet. Otherwise, you wouldn't have asked the silly question...

By the way, I know you!! i'm a friend of you. And your name is clare. Right?

Cheers,

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This gets better and better,the original question was "what should a good violin sound like?" nobody seems to know.We have had fine art or good wine anologies but precious little else except Stradavarius. How many bloody fiddles did he make?everybody on this forum has tried one;knows someone who owns one;would mortgage their house to have one.A good violin is NOT squeaky,nasal,tinny it sings and is easy to play.What sort of fiddle does Martin Hayes play now that's sweet I'll have one of those anyday.

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