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What Should A Good Violin Sound Like?


Fellow

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In the context of the thread question, there's enough latitude to make such comparisons. Are your own descriptive faculties up to the task? Read back through the thread to see whose post said the old master violins aren't worth their price. That's an assertion requiring a superior appreciation of tone, I should think.

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I think we're asking the wrong question.

The real question isn't "What do good violins sound like?" It's "What do good violins play like?"

One reason why I say that is that players tend to sound like themselves even when they switch violins. They have a certain sound in their head and they work the violin until that sound comes out.

The other reason is that there a number of factors that Michael and others have mentioned that I think matter and some of them don't show up directly as something that a listener can hear -- responsiveness (does the violin start to work instantly or is there a lag), focus (I find I can't really describe it but I know it when I hear it), projection (what size space can it fill), power reserve (how loud/strong can it get and how much work does it take to get it there), range of power (can it play well quietly, too and how easily), how easy can you get a good range of tone (from silky sweet to edgy to growling to ...), ease of intonation, etc.

Some of those things can be heard. Others like resposiveness, really can't be heard. Only the player knows. And other factors like range can be heard but require careful listening, careful playing, and sometimes the right environment/room.

A good player can make a violin do things that it doesn't naturally want to do. You can work around slow response, you can force power, etc. But it's all work and the more attention you pay to making the instrument do what you want it to do, the less attention you have to spend on making music.

That's why the good and great instruments can be so highly valued by players.

And not every player needs every item on the above list. Most of us don't need awesome projection. I love fast responding violins but they're not for everyone. Most of us probably can't create as wide a range of tones and volumes that a great violin is capable of generating. Etc.

The trick with violins is figuring out what you really need and shop accordingly. That may mean that a $40,000 violin isn't worth it to you. But it might be worth it to the next player stepping through the door.

- Ray

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Mark, the wine analogy is perfect. I buy two classes of wine for myself: first those which are cheap, inoffensive, and won't make me sick, and second, those which are more expensive, and offer me something additional. Saying a wine is "drinkable" is the equivalent of a "playable" violin. My favorite drinkable wine costs me about $4 a bottle, is essentially boring, but also (and this is really important) inoffensive in every respect. However, when I want something special, I understand and also appreciate what spending $20-30 or more achieves. Carrying it further, I don't appreciate wines enough to have someone waste a $300 bottle on me, but I don't say there's nothing to a $300 bottle, even though it goes over my head. And, carrying the analogy another step, I've had one unhappy taste of a $300 bottle that ended up being poured immediately down the drain, so spending $300 isn't a guarantee of something good. And my mother drinks stuff that comes in a gallon jug for $6--anytime I've brought her something better--even my $4 favorite, she doesn't get it at all. It's just like violins in every respect, I think.

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I don't think overall "tone" is irrelevant, but of all the things here it's the hardest one to get a handle on. I think I've mentioned before testing violins with a friend of mine who owns some really nice examples. He's got two that could be called "almost a Strad", and a Strad. The two sound wonderful by themselves, and if they're the only ones I hear, I could say nothing could be better; however when the Strad comes out it's necessary to add some more room at the top of the measuring scale to make space for it.

I've seen this a couple of other times, too--instruments which you'd think offer everything, until the Strad comes out. Even though some of this applies to Cremonese instruments as a group, Strads are a special case, above that, which is why I usually say "Strads, etc.", rather than "Cremonese violins". In fact two of the "almost Strads" that have been most impressive have been Venetian, not Cremonese.

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I also think the wine analogy is very good ... and I drink wine in exactly the same way as Michael. I'm sure there are people out there who can savour every nuance of a $300 wine ... and a lot more who like to think (or pretend) they can.

But to take the analogy even further, it seems to me that the wine people have two things over us. First they have developed a more structured language to define taste. We muddle around with words like growly and squeaky and tinny, but wouldn't it be nice to know that we all meant the same thing. Some day I hope someone will write a book on "violin listening" with a systematic approach to judging sound and a glossary of standard terms, just like any number of books on wine tasting.

Secondly (and much more importantly) they have realised the absolute necessity for blind tastings. There is no doubt that seeing the "Grange Hermitage" or "Chateau Rothschild" label on the wine you are drinking makes you change your expectations and perceptions. It's just human nature. And we all know that a wine show will sometimes produce a surprising winner - the $10 bottle that gets the gold medal over the more prestigious wine. And that's just the sort of wine that I (and probably Michael) rush out and buy by the case.

So anytime I hear someone waxing lyrical over a "famous name" violin I can't help myself from thinking: "I wonder what they would think if they didn't know the makers name?"

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Ok - OFF TOPIC (Sort of)

Quote:

ease of intonation,


I find that with my lesser violin, I have better intonation than with my good violin and if I play the lesser one for a while and try to switch back the problem is acentuated. I have been advised (and do not dispute - just not ready to do it) that my better instrument could use (needs) it's neck reset because the angle is too low. This is offset with a wedge under the fingerboard so that the bridge height is good. Is is likely that the neckset and wedge are related to the intonation issues I have? My intonation tends to break down progressively as I work up in position. Or am I blaming my own failure on the violin? (up until recently I have been blaming only myself!)

(note: I say "lesser" and "better", both are good instruments and both are bohemian instruments. One is simply the better violin and my primary.)

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Quote:

Secondly (and much more importantly) they have realised the absolute necessity for blind tastings.


On the point regarding "taste testing", we've all heard of any number of so-called 'blind tests' of, usually a Strad, and some other maker's instrument- with the reported results from listeners generally favoring the newer, lessor known instrument, or at least that they were unable to differentiate between the instruments. Are these stories real or are they made-up stories that get passed around? Have any such tests/results been documented or legitimately reported by qualified experts?

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This kind of thing does happen. The immediate question I always have is the qualifications of the listeners--if they're not qualified to tell the difference, then the test doesn't mean much. Often you find that the audience is essentially off the street, with no particular skills that makes their opinions meaningful, which means the results are, essentially, random. In the wine comparison vein, what some beer drinker thinks of a $300 bottle of wine means absolutely nothing, and putting 300 Budwiser fans in a room and having them agree means 300 times less, not 300 times more.

You don't hear much about all the thousands of people who can hear the difference, and have put their money where their mouths are, because that's not attractively iconoclastic, which is a very big point with some people.

I'm always reminded of the Nova program featuring Nagyvary, about 20 years ago. He played a Strad and one of his violins into his computer, and pulled out a printout. "See," he said, "they are the same". Well, they weren't even close, even through my tiny TV speakers. All that particular test proved was that both he and his computer weren't sufficiently sophisticated to tell a good violin from a bad one--it didn't say a thing about the violins themselves.

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I have a trained ear, but some ears are much better than mines, of course. I remember that I took the CD the Glory of Cremona to one of my friend's house. In the end of the CD, 15 Cremonese violins are played (the opening notes of a violin concerto, Bruch, if I'm not wrong). I was astonished how objective and precise his comments were, but he is all ears (and 84 years old...).

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I have a friend (a player with a lot of experience with fine instruments, including a stint selling them) who went through the comparison recording from the Bein and Fushi Miracle Makers set (24 Strads and del Gesus), and was able to divide them into the Strads and the del Gesus with 100% accuracy. I tried it, and didn't do particularly well. Obviously there are people who have ears that hear much more than others can, and know what they're hearing.

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Especially if the wedge is really a wedge, and not a shim of even thickness, the neck becomes progressively thicker towards the body, and yes, I've heard players complain heavily about this regarding lack of comfort and intonation problems in the higer registers.

Regardless of the wedge, if the stop-length is not standard because of an irregular neck length, this will also cause intonation problems.

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Quote:

I've never played one, I don't know what they sound like, I believe they have to produce a beautiful sound but at £1.000.000.no way


Sorry to keep debating you...but, you are the only one whose responded to my post... ...In any case, something in your statement seem to have full of contradiction. You stated that you've never played one (Strad). But yet, you seem to know for sure that it is not worth 1,000,000 pounds (by the way that is much more than one million dollars . But, the way you wrote it, in the US, it's only 1.6 dollar). So, you seem to feel very strongly about your claim. But yet, no practical data to back it up...only speculation...where I come from we call it "blowing smoke" or "pulling a rabit out of thin air" ...kind of like what your Priminister and our beloved president said about the Wheapon of Mass Destruction (WMD). Who care if it was true or not?? as long as it makes people fell warmed and fuzzy inside and safe!!!

Cheers,

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I have an old cassette recording of a BBC radio program made around 1975 that is quite interesting. For those who haven't heard it, they got Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman and Charles Beare into a studio and behind a screen had Parikian playing a Strad, a del Gesu, a Vuillaume and a modern English violin (only a year old) made by Praill. Stern and Zuckerman were also allowed to try out all four instruments beforehand.

It was obviously a very basic test, as only two short excerpts were played - the start of the Bruch and the opening bars of the Bach Chaconne - but in case you are interested the results were:

Stern picked 2/4 (Vuillaume and Strad), Beare 2/4 (Praill and Strad) and Zukerman 0/4 (and note that the del Gesu being used was Zukerman's own instrument).

It's probably not fair to leap to any definite conclusions from such a quick and limited trial (and the players went to great lengths to point this out), but it was interesting that the Strad and Guarneri weren't immediately and clearly obvious over the other two.

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Hi All,

I am using a $4,000 violin for daily practice. It came to my surprise that it isn't any better than my other two violins $1000, $900 respectively. Then I have tried some $5000-$9000 violins in shops, not much different neither.

They are all nice in some ways but nothing stand out.

I have tried bows too. $3000 bow with gold mounted, good

but again nothing striking.

Just my experience. Like to hear your experience.

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sammy444,

Great message about being in love with a violin. That says it perfectly. I'm in love with my violin, and fortunately, she didn't cost $2,000,000. But yes, I could find better instruments for a lot of money.

Jacob,

I think you are mistaken about the wedge. Becker routinely uses a wedge, even on Beckers, and no one accuses him of anything but impeccible setup. And if it is done properly, with the strings the proper height above the fingerboard, it couldn't possibly affect intonation in upper positions, where your hand isn't even on the neck.

The problems with intonation could be due to incorrect height of strings (caused by wrong fingerboard scoop or bridge height or neck angle, incorrectly made wedge, or badly worn fingerboard), mismatched string tensions, incorrect string length (player should be able to adjust to this), wrong bridge position, or wrong proportions (neck and body length).

But I wouldn't automatically blame the wedge, which is a perfectly acceptable way to adjust the fingerboard angle. The taper of a wedge should be very small--maybe a mm or 2--so that shouldn't cause intonation issues.

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Yes, Manfio

Thank you for response. I admit that there are subtle

differences if I play one note at a time but nothing is striking or stand out . They (my violins) pretty much the

same level,I guess. I know there are worst kind like my student instrument I had before but I am not sure the better kind (higher price $5000-$9000). Of course ,I have not tried yet more expensive violins. So I ask a lot of questions. Not that I want to find a better instrument.

After 5 min of playing (of mine) I just don't recognize which one I am using. It surprises me.

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Off Topic part!

La Folia, you give me too much credit! I'm not that high up the finger board.

Jacob and Wolfjk, the wedge is about 1mm at the nut and 2mm at the root of the neck. I am certian that I am not dealing with a baroque setup, the wedge was only added last year when I picked back up after a long layoff and had the violin refurbished (seams etc). The feedback lets me add another bit to the "reset the neck" side of the balance. Thanks, and be assured, I put the major intonation fault on the violinist!

On Topic:

Yuen, I have avoided the values on my violins since they have not changed hands in at least 70 years, however, my current appraisals are for $6,000 for the lesser and $8,000 for the better. Your $4,000 violin may be better than both of mine, however, mine pick up a premium for age and collectablity, the "lesser" younger violin is 180 yrs old and in very good condition (dispite my learning on it and toteing it back and forth through 7th-12th grades!).

The great Strads and Del Gesus also pick up some value for antique value, however, in the range of a high end soloist, the differences are noticable. Someone mentioned Joshua Bell's trading up to the Huberman Strad. I had read his description of why and what he had to spend to do it. The "Tom Taylor" Strad was a $2,000,000 violin, he sold it and scraped together another $2M to buy the "Huberman" for $4M. Obviously, to him the difference between the two was worth the money. Unfortunately for this discussion, he does not compare the tone and response of the two, just says he felt he must have the Huberman.

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Hi,

IF your violin playability is not to your liking.

Let your local luthier check it out. It is a very

simple job for a trained eyes. Usually off 0.5 mm here and

there. Not big deal.

As for the values tissue, I honestly don't know any

"better" violins. Better prrices violins are many and all over but

nothing striking to me so far I have tried.

What annoying me most people talk about them and I have been

deprived of having access to any of them. Do they really exist? Give a clue.

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I recall that the times I listened to that recording I liked the sound of the Bergonzi violin most. But that was then. I find, that among my various violins I will sometimes switch between them becaused my ear "wants" something different for a while. Sometimes it wants brighter, sometimes deeper, but it always wants a bit of an edge to certain of the overtones to help penetration of the sound, and responsiveness of my violins is all about the same - or at lest that is so with the bow I select to play each with.

In my experience, gained occassionally and without direction I find a logarithmic relationship between instrument quality and price such that in general a $1,000 instrument will give about 50% of what a $1M one will. There are exceptions in that at least one of the $50 Asian violins I "e-bayed" for a student is very close to the $1000 level (at least with the bridge, tailpiece, and strings that I added) and it's appearance is easily at about a $3,000 level.

HOWEVER, one can find a lot of the characteristics of the $1M fiddle for a lot less - but not consistently - and one doesn't always find it in all million $ instruments. Of the ~$1,500 violins I tested in one purchase attempt for another person 10% were reasonably acceptable to me, while 90% I would not want to ever have to play - definitely below the $50 instrument mentioned above.

My breakpoint on tone/responsiveness on violins (that had a price on them) was around $35,000. But realize a lot of this is due to some perceived "maker's name value." I find equivalent and better quality in new instruments around the $10,000 - $20,000 price and occassionally a "no-name" maker will have made an equal or greater instrument.

Setup and string selection can make a tremendous difference in the perceived quality of an instrument, so that if each instrument is brought to its best possible state the relationship of quality and price might be even less steep - but even so it is all in the ear of the beholder.

Andy

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