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Cremonese verus the rest


Argon55
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Oded knows I'm suspicious of the type of test he suggests because I understand too well the failings of the instrumentation involved. :-)

I believe I've mentioned here before (maybe even in this thread? It's been going on soooo long...) that I have a friend who has a number of nice violins and bows, of the type under discussion, and we've done the following a numer of times: he plays each violin with each bow, and we both pick our favorite. Then when we have the best bow for each violin, we rank the violins, using the best bow on each. We always are entirely in agreement, all the way through the process, including our descriptions of what we're hearing. We do this in a large living room (small-concert size) that's very bare. I have another friend who is nearly infallible in being able to say if a recording is of a Strad or a del Gesu. As far as I'm concerned, the types of tests being discussed are for people who can't hear this type of thing (and they almost always, while claiming to be unbiased, have a clear bias: they want to see tests because they don't hear the difference and they refuse, therefore, to believe there is one.) I've participated in enough of this type of exercises that the difference is totally clear to me. And obviously I'm not the only one. You can hold a hearing at the school for the blind on whether the sky is blue, but please don't invite me.

Much of the published work I see using instrumentation attempts conclusions way beyond the abilities of the tools used. If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, as they say. I guess I'll mention, in passing, the Nagyvary Nova program from around 1985. He played a Strad and one of his violins into a computer, pulled out printouts, and said "see, they are the same". Unfortunately, it was really obvious when he was playing them that they weren't at all--not even close. Convincing yourself that you're a great violin maker is much easier if you can't hear, isn't it, and a lot of violin makers have that problem, which they use to great advantage in promoting themselves.

I think that doing a "fair" test would be nearly impossible, though--the first thing you'd have to do is collect a group of people who actually (rather than claiming they do) have the skill of knowing, which has, as I said, never been done. Usually you end up with people like one local prestigious teacher, who plays a semi-decent modern violin that's definitely less good than he is. After hearing his colleagues complain about his sound for a while, I took a Strad up to him, just for fun. He'd told me tales of all the great violins he's played, in all the great shops, and how good his ear was, and how lucky he was to have his own violin. He played the Strad against his, and his comment was "see, my violin's just as good." Well, it REALLY wasn't, and that was painfully obvious. This is the type of guys who end up at listening events.

Oded's seen this list, which was generated by audiophiles. It's the best set of descriptions I've seen, even though it differs from what violinists say. The source is here: ">http://www.faqs.org/faqs/AudioFAQ/part2/

Airy: Spacious. Open. Instruments sound like they are surrounded by a large reflective space full of air. Good reproduction of high-frequency reflections. High-frequency response extends to 15 or 20 kHz.

Bassy: Emphasized low frequencies below about 200 Hz.

Blanketed: Weak highs, as if a blanket were put over the speakers.

Bloated: Excessive mid-bass around 250 Hz. Poorly damped low frequencies, low-frequency resonances. See tubby.

Blurred: Poor transient response. Vague stereo imaging, not focused.

Boomy: Excessive bass around 125 Hz. Poorly damped low frequencies or low-frequency resonances.

Boxy: Having resonances as if the music were enclosed in a box. Sometimes an emphasis around 250 to 500 Hz.

Breathy: Audible breath sounds in woodwinds and reeds such as flute or sax. Good response in the upper-mids or highs.

Bright: High-frequency emphasis. Harmonics are strong relative to fundamentals.

Chesty: The vocalist sounds like their chest is too big. A bump in the low-frequency response around 125 to 250 Hz.

Clear: See Transparent.

Colored: Having timbres that are not true to life. Non-flat response, peaks or dips.

Crisp: Extended high-frequency response, especially with cymbals.

Dark: Opposite of bright. Weak high frequencies.

Delicate: High frequencies extending to 15 or 20 kHz without peaks.

Depth: A sense of distance (near to far) of different instruments.

Detailed: Easy to hear tiny details in the music; articulate. Adequate high-frequency response, sharp transient response.

Dull: See dark.

Edgy: Too much high frequencies. Trebly. Harmonics are too strong relative to the fundamentals. Distorted, having unwanted harmonics that add an edge or raspiness.

Fat: See Full and Warm. Or, spatially diffuse - a sound is panned to one channel, delayed, and then the delayed sound is panned to the other channel. Or, slightly distorted with analog tape distortion or tube distortion.

Full: Strong fundamentals relative to harmonics. Good low-frequency response, not necessarily extended, but with adequate level around 100 to 300 Hz. Male voices are full around 125 Hz; female voices and violins are full around 250 Hz; sax is full around 250 to 400 Hz. Opposite of thin.

Gentle: Opposite of edgy. The harmonics - highs and upper mids - are not exaggerated, or may even be weak.

Grainy: The music sounds like it is segmented into little grains, rather than flowing in one continuous piece. Not liquid or fluid. Suffering from harmonic or I.M. distortion. Some early A/D converters sounded grainy, as do current ones of inferior design. Powdery is finer than grainy.

Grungy: Lots of harmonic or I.M. distortion.

Hard: Too much upper midrange, usually around 3 kHz. Or, good transient response, as if the sound is hitting you hard.

Harsh: Too much upper midrange. Peaks in the frequency response between 2 and 6 kHz. Or, excessive phase shift in a digital recorder's lowpass filter.

Honky: Like cupping your hands around your mouth. A bump in the response around 500 to 700 Hz.

Mellow: Reduced high frequencies, not edgy.

Muddy: Not clear. Weak harmonics, smeared time response, I.M. distortion.

Muffled: Sounds like it is covered with a blanket. Weak highs or weak upper mids.

Nasal: Honky, a bump in the response around 600 Hz.

Piercing: Strident, hard on the ears, screechy. Having sharp, narrow peaks in the response around 3 to 10 kHz.

Presence: A sense that the instrument in present in the listening room. Synonyms are edge, punch, detail, closeness and clarity. Adequate or emphasized response around 5 kHz for most instruments, or around 2 to 5 kHz for kick drum and bass.

Puffy: A bump in the response around 500 Hz.

Punchy: Good reproduction of dynamics. Good transient response, with strong impact. Sometimes a bump around 5 kHz or 200 Hz.

Rich: See Full. Also, having euphonic distortion made of even-order harmonics.

Round: High-frequency rolloff or dip. Not edgy.

Sibilant: "Essy" Exaggerated "s" and "sh" sounds in singing, caused by a rise in the response around 6 to 10 kHz.

Sizzly: See Sibilant. Also, too much highs on cymbals.

Smeared: Lacking detail. Poor transient response, too much leakage between microphones. Poorly focused images.

Smooth: Easy on the ears, not harsh. Flat frequency response, especially in the midrange. Lack of peaks and dips in the response.

Spacious: Conveying a sense of space, ambiance, or room around the instruments. Stereo reverb. Early reflections.

Steely: Emphasized upper mids around 3 to 6 kHz. Peaky, nonflat high-frequency response. See Harsh, Edgy.

Strident: See Harsh, Edgy.

Sweet: Not strident or piercing. Delicate. Flat high-frequency response, low distortion. Lack of peaks in the response. Highs are extended to 15 or 20 kHz, but they are not bumped up. Often used when referring to cymbals, percussion, strings, and sibilant sounds.

Telephone-like: See Tinny.

Thin: Fundamentals are weak relative to harmonics.

Tight: Good low-frequency transient response and detail.

Tinny: Narrowband, weak lows, peaky mids. The music sounds like it is coming through a telephone or tin can.

Transparent: Easy to hear into the music, detailed, clear, not muddy. Wide flat frequency response, sharp time response, very low distortion and noise.

Tubby: Having low-frequency resonances as if you're singing in a bathtub. See bloated.

Veiled: Like a silk veil is over the speakers. Slight noise or distortion or slightly weak high frequencies. Not transparent.

Warm: Good bass, adequate low frequencies, adequate fundamentals relative to harmonics. Not thin. Also excessive bass or midbass. Also, pleasantly spacious, with adequate reverberation at low frequencies. Also see Rich, Round. Warm highs means sweet highs.

Weighty: Good low-frequency response below about 50 Hz. Suggesting an object of great weight or power, like a diesel locomotive.

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Lots of interesting posts here again but a few people seemed to

have misunderstood what I've ben saying. But I do feel compelled to

answer a number of posters individually:

COB3: Look this really won't do. I enjoy people criticising my

arguments based on what I actually said or meant and lots of

post here do just that....which is fine. But I do have a problem

with being misrepresented and I'd suggest you look at my posts

again and read them carefully. At no point did  I say that

anybody was being dishonest or foolish. But I did try (obviously

unsuccessfully in your case) to explain the limitations of the

human mind and consequent behaviour which means that people have

understandable reasons for maintaining the status quo. I have

nothing but respect for the integrity of posters here who clearly

have a great deal of experience in making, restoring and dealing in

violins (while recognising that not all dealers are paragons of

virtue but that's a completely different argument ).

Salieri: Whether I can perceive a difference in wine (if you read

my post more carefully, you'll see I used to count myself as having

an educated palate) or violins (actually I was being modest about

my playing ability though I'm not a professional) due to a lack of

discernment is irrelevant. My hypothesis is, to state it again,

that there is no difference in overall sound quality between

Cremonese instruments and those from the best violin makers since.

This can be assessed by a double blind test involving a panel of

either "expert" listeners or the general public. The double blind

design eliminates prior knowledge which is known to affect

perception (it also affects many other things such as the response

to inactive substances in drug trials, the placebo effect). This is

exceedingly simple design (though harder to actually do the test in

practice because of cost and complex arrangements to obtain large

enough panels of instruments and listeners) and scientists

regularly design experiments and trials which eliminate far more

complex confounding variables than some mentioned here.

However, I am not suggesting that you cant perceive a difference

between Strads and other good violins. In other words there is a

difference in sound quality but you cant necessarily say which is

better is you didn't know which was which. Neither am I suggesting

that mass produced fiddles are as good as Strads in sound quality

or playability.

On the other hand, as Falstaff said, I think it is true that there

are other indicators of truth other than scientific proof and that

there are some areas, such as the meanings of our lives that are

inaccessible to scientific investigation. And there are some truths

about Strads which go beyond objectivity too such as their beauty,

the workmanship, their age, the fact that they were made by one of

the great innovators. People invest their own meanings in these

things and they are no less important for that and I wouldn't

challenge that. But you could say the same about an antique

or a gothic cathedral for that matter. Sound quality on the

other hand.............

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The point has been made that a good player can compensate for lesser qualities of an instrument and can make it sound just as good in a listening test or other seting.

Thats true,but some technical elements are harder to compensate for then others.(sometimes impossible)

Vibrato for instance.In a poor violin is gonna lock you in a slow speed and if you whant to go any faster youre just brakeing the cyclical patern of the loops.Is gonna start sounding like a goat laugh.

Another one is playing with slow bows.There is a certain minimum speed of the bow that you have to maintain in order to produce a decent sound.If you go below that speed youre gonna hear it imediately.Playing long melodic phrases is a good test here.On this one the player has more options to compensate,like reducing the output(playing softer) or changing the bowing(slures),even playing a little quiker helps.But you can notice those differencies easy.

There are plenty of examples on classical music that combine the two above and can be used as comparison.

Just some that come in my mind right now are,begining of Mozart A major#5 concerto,begining of Beethoven concerto and the theme,firt solo from Sheherezade,solo from Death and transfiguration,Meditation Massenet etc.

So next time you see somebody showing off his/her skils on a poor violin ask him to play one of the examples above.Chanses are that you will notice bigger discrepancies that way.

Gabriel

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If I may flog this thoroughly-beaten horse a couple more times . .

.

Michael, do you think the instructor you mention with the

less-than-great violin may actually hear tones differently than

most other people?  After all, what we hear has an emotional

as well as a physical component.  May not his or her violin

actually sound as good to him/her as the Strad?

I'll agree that most people can hear an objective difference

between a Strad or del Gesu and most other violins,and if asked to

describe the sound they're hearing, their discriptions will be

generally consonant. However, I suspect a minority of people, whose

brain is perhaps wired a little differently than most, or have some

element in their upbringing that lends a different character to the

sounds they hear, subconciously evaluate what they hear by a

different set of criteria.

I think I may be in that minority.  I've never had the

pleasure of having a Strad or del Gesu under my chin, nor have I

even stood next to someone playing a great Cremonese violin, so I'm

obviously no expert.  However, I've heard recordings of modern

violins that, to my ear, sound every bit as good as a del Gesu or

Strad.  So . . . for now, subject to a mind-change if I ever

get to play one of the old master violins, I'm firmly in the camp

that believes an excellent modern violin rests sonically on the

same footing as a great old Cremonese.

Finally, a slightly off-the-wall question to whoever cares to

respond:  do women subjectively hear sounds about the same as

men?  In other words, will a woman "expert" describe the

violin they're hearing in much the same terms as a man

"expert"?

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Doc--when someone thinks everything is about the same, I'm inclined to blame defective hearing, not "different" hearing. I can't see a lack of discrimination (defined here as the ability to separate things which are different) as being anything but a defect, no matter what the topic is.

Argon--OK, taking your line, then, who do you nominate for having made a violin that should be in such a test? What's the concrete basis for this comment: "My hypothesis is, to state it again, that there is no difference in overall sound quality between Cremonese instruments and those from the best violin makers since." What do you have to convince us that this an issue?

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quote:


Originally posted by: Argon55

COB3: Look this really won't do. I enjoy people criticising my

arguments based on what I actually said or meant and lots of

post here do just that....which is fine. But I do have a problem

with being misrepresented and I'd suggest you look at my posts

again and read them carefully. At no point did  I say that

anybody was being dishonest or foolish. But I did try (obviously

unsuccessfully in your case) to explain the limitations of the

human mind and consequent behaviour which means that people have

understandable reasons for maintaining the status quo. ).

OK-- it took me a while, but there were two statements (following) that you made, and that I had in mind when I answered:

~~~~~~~~~~

"I suspect that too many people have an interest in maintaining the current price differential between Cremonese and later instruments to facilitate such a study for risk that these old Italian violins may be shown to be no better than the best makers since then."

"However if experts can't consistently conclude one violin is better than another (even though they might be aware of a difference in sound) then the difference doesn't exist."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The first suggests dishonesty (at least with oneself) as to motivation in saying there is a difference. The second is a clear statement of "if you can't prove it to everyone's satisfaction, then it doesn't exist". (Thereby making all those who maintain that there IS a difference foolish for clinging to that conviction.)

Both were later ameliorated to some degree, by a bit of backpedalling, but still, are pretty arrogant-sounding. I don't think I took either out of the general context in which they were made.

I come to this forum as a bona fide NON-expert, but there are a few bona fide experts here on the forum, and who are pretty gracious about how they respond to us non-expert sorts. Those experts who really have spent hundreds of hours (thousands?) in close quarters with old master instruments collectively agree that there are major differences between the violins of certain old masters above EVERYone else, even other old masters. And they also freely confess that it is a difficult-to-quantify type of difference. Why should that be cause for either skepticism or suspicion? I'm pretty sure none of them will ever offer to sell me a Strad (I'll never be in a position to buy one, anyway), and none of them are claiming to have any particular "secrets" by which to transform their (or anyone else's) instrument into a miraculous "near-Strad" paragon. They are also fairly hard-headed pragmatists. But they have one advantage you and I do NOT have--lots and lots of hands-on, face-to-face, chin-to-chinrest experience with the real thing.

I don't think I said anything of you that I shouldn't have...but if I did, I'm sorry. Maybe you ought to re-read your posts yourself. Everyone here is aware of the limitations of the human mind--I am especially aware of those of my own, as I stated in my first post.

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"If I may flog this thoroughly-beaten horse a couple more times . . ."

Ahhh, a man after my own heart.

I have an especially wicked whip for this type of flogging, so that the horse, though dead, may well feel the sting of it - is what I think. The odd thing is that I too feel the need to flog long after the horse has stopped moving.

I will add that it has never succeeded in making the horse react one way or the other...

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"People invest their own meanings in these things and they are no less important for that and I wouldn't challenge that. "

Agreed. But the investment of meaning into an object is NOT random. History did not choose to invest meaning in a gothic cathedral over the horse stall by accident. They did so in response to something intrinsic to the gothic cathedral. Similarly, our valuation of Cremonese master violins is not simply some voodoo fad in response to celebrity (Viotti's or Paganini's). There is a THERE there.

The fact that you have not perceived the possibly ineluctable quality of a great violin does not mean it isn't there. The fact that we cannot pinpoint that quality on a scientific intrument, does not mean it isn't real.

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Michael - I assume by your statement you

believe I have "defective," rather than "different" hearing, since

I doubt the sonic superiority of a Cremonese master instrument over

an excellent modern.  I hadn't considered that possibility.

 However, you're wrong if you believe I "hear

everything...about the same."  Among the violins I've played

and heard, I've picked out many different tonal qualities, and some

have sounded much better to me than others.

ctviolin - I got one a' them wicked whips too!  And, yes, I've

continued to flog with all my might long after the cayuse had

stopped breathing!

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Let's say, "not optimized" then. I don't think that's a problem--everyone wants to be in the upper percentiles of everything, but realistically that doesn't happen, right? It doesn't bother me when people can't hear something--what bothers me is when they tell me *I* can't hear something that I'm definitely hearing.

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These postings remind me of the movie Amadeus and Saleri's account of the music of Mozart and the element of divinity within the music that bafflingly only Saleri could hear.

Is it possible to create musical phrases of perfection? And is not perfection divine?

Is it possible for a master violin maker to make something greater than great, to make something perfect...to make something divine..

Which reminds me of the movie Field of Dreams, where Kevin Cosner creates perfection in a baseball field and in so creates something which is divine. Not everyone can see the ball players. And so not everyone can find the divinity in Mozart nor the perfection in a Stradavari.

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Michael - Well, I don't for a minute doubt

you can hear the difference between a del Gesu and a modern master.

 However, I'm not about to concede the point that I can't.

 Very possibly I simply haven't (yet) been in an environment

where I'm likely to hear the difference.  In my original

position, I left open that possibility.  But for now I remain

committed to the view that a Gregg Alf or a Michael Darnton is no

less "perfect" than a Strad or del Gesu.

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Hi

(1) How is it possible to compare two violins without actually playing them yourself?.

(2) "Cremonese violins verus the rest." How many violins are we talking about?

It is hard enough to compare two violins. To compare two groups of violins and to do a good job, is impossible.

We are left the choice of taking the consensus of people who have accesses of Cremonese violins on faith. Their experiences and contacts are better most of us.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
DocFidlStix

Michael - Well, I don't for a minute doubt

you can hear the difference between a del Gesu and a modern master.

However, I'm not about to concede the point that I can't.

Very possibly I simply haven't (yet) been in an environment

where I'm likely to hear the difference. In my original

position, I left open that possibility. But for now I remain

committed to the view that a Gregg Alf or a Michael Darnton is no

less "perfect" than a Strad or del Gesu.

I think this is a learnable skill. I certainly wasn't born that way, and it didn't come easy for me either, and I didn't get it until I had the opportunity to work in sales at Bein & Fushi, by which time I'd already made about 75 violins. I realized that was a great opportunity for me, and I began to grill every good player about what they heard and liked, and many were kind enough to demonstrate things for me until I understood what they were talking about. Without that experience, I doubt I'd hear the difference now.

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Michael, I wouldn't presume to suggest which violins should be

included in such a test. That should be left to people such as

yourself who have the knowledge to make an informed selection. The

point is that a hypothesis is open to testing. It's possible that

such a test might show that I'm wrong. Which would be fine because

it would be a relatively good test of objective reality and its

been a central tenet of my life and training that I prefer to

engage with reality (or at least what passes for it) rather than

how I'd prefer existence to be. One of the reasons why I'm a

scientist. Another reason is that I'm personally a skeptic by

nature. Whenever I hear or read people saying that something is

uncomplicatedly true, then I start to question that.....which is

what I've been doing here. Also, I find it intellectually dubious

that in something like violin making, there were a handful of

makers in the 17th/18th centuries who have never been equalled

since. It seems like idealisation and extremely unlikely. However,

I could be wrong but only that test would demonstrate

it.....everything else, including my comments above and those of

everybody else, is just opinion rather than evidence. However I

don't have any problems with accepting the fact that those early

makers were innovators of the first rank because there is objective

evidence for it.

COB3, Perhaps your misunderstanding is more to do with the

imprecision of words and the necessity to be concise here. I can

perhaps understand your line of thought now that you've explained

it but I think you've made your own interpretation of my words

which didn't match with my original meaning since I wasn't

"back-pedalling" (another interpretation) on my initial comments,

rather trying to explain them more fully. As for arrogance, then

maybe I should plead guilty But only over the nature of

objective evidence and perception....I've certainly not got

remotely near the knowledge and expertise of many posters here

about the history, construction, identification and restoration of

violins. However, that's not what this thread was originally about.

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"Also, I find it intellectually dubious that in something like violin making, there were a handful of makers in the 17th/18th centuries who have never been equalled since. It seems like idealisation and extremely unlikely."

Sorry... this is where things fell apart for me the first go 'round. I disagree with your logic, so I'll repeat and embellish what I said earlier.

First, to me, a great instrument appeals to more than one sense. It gives feedback to the player as well as the audience when it is used by someone who knows how to work it properly. You can hear it in a hall. It carries history with it. It's beautiful to look at. "Well, that has little to do with how it sounds" is a response I would expect... but is that true? Players have a relationship with their instruments. Pride of ownership, or stewardship, can (and does) enhance performance. Running a double blind test might level the field in terms of this last factor, but to me, it would be kind of like putting weighted shoes on the best runners at the olympics to even out the competition. Even so, a really great player might feel their way right through the blindfold.

But I'm going off topic...

The bar was set by concert players in the late 18th/early 19th century. That picture hasn't been changed significantly. Makers since have borrowed from, or completely relied upon, the designs of the classic makers. The market/players have responded by rewarding those who did the best job of emulating these classic designs either during, or after, their lifetimes.

So: How can one surpass what one is essentially copying? Have any makers "equalled" these classic instruments? Possible... but if an instrument were "equalled" in all ways, they are probably sold and accepted as originals...

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Jeffrey Holmes writes.....

The bar was set by concert players in the late 18th/early 19th

century. That picture hasn't been changed significantly. Makers

since have borrowed from, or completely relied upon, the designs of

the classic makers. The market/players have responded by rewarding

those who did the best job of emulating these classic designs

either during, or after, their lifetimes.

So: How can one surpass what one is essencially copying? Have any

makers "equalled" these classic instruments? Possible... but if an

instrument were "equalled" in all ways, they are probably sold and

accepted as originals...

Yes!...I think you've just about hit the nail on the head there

Jeff.

The aesthetic has long been defined by history.

A cultural historian with expertise in aesthetics could fill this

one out more but in social science terms Old Cremonese instruments

would be defined as something like 'culturally fetishised

objects' by the way they have come to be percieved over the last

200 plus years.

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Hi'

Cremona makers of course were wonderful. Contemporary makers are wonderful too. They can make very beautiful copies that we want. The violin world containing old and new, is like a happy wonderland. Only if you know what you want, just make a wish

Thank you, Jeff. enlighteing post. You said it all

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Jeffrey Holmes

Pride of ownership, or stewardship, can (and does) enhance performance.

Thank you.

That sums up a lot of things perfectly and also answers/counters soulless questions such as "Why does the maker matter?" and statements such as "It's only tone that counts."

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