Stradivari vs Testore


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Something I ponder from time to time: if 1,000,000 violins have been hand made to Stradivari's exact dimensions, are any of them truly originals, regardless of how close they come to the specs?

My eyes are not sharp enough to discern the miniscule differences that many makers discuss on this forum, but my ears are good enough to note that many new violins which have been carefully handcrafted to look like another maker's and sell for top dollar, have a disappointing sound for the price(no I am not comparing new to old), even though the cost is well justified by the time spent. And my eyes are usually sharp enough to see if an object has been designed freehand rather than copied. Of course molds limit this feature in instrument making, so I quite frankly find many new instruments boring to look at strictly because of familiarity. But I am not a big fan of antiquing either. So for my 2 cents worth as a consumer of violin family products I value obvious signs of experience and knowledge which allows a talented individual to eye ball the construction, possibly to accommodate the particular raw materials, possibly because exactness doesn't always matter, possibly just to leave his mark. I am not talking about ineptitude (I was given one such violin from Coboconk which should be firewood), but a true master who understands the reason for making a violin, knows his raw materials inside out, and uses his skills without hesitation.

Am I alone in these thoughts? Any comments?

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There's no such thing as "to Stradivari's exact dimensions."

I think most makers would say that within the confines of the basic model being "copied" there is a great latitude for personal model and variation.

That said, to broaden the point, I don't think "perfection" as you mean it is in itself a virtue. I think there are many amateurs and provincial makers who did not have the correct mold or numbers who have made wonderful violins. I think the rustic makers who were churning out for musicians rather than nobility -- like the Testores -- created quite lovely violins. But then I have a weakness for the rough.

But I think the most successful of those do have a kind of aesthetic unity and balance that is comparable to what you are calling Stradivari's "perfection."

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There probably are violin makers out there who

would like to work from their own models, and have a type of

workmanship that emphasizes a wonderful tool,

material control, yet don't sweat the small details. And play

fast and loose with symmetry and the like. there may be a few brave

souls who are actually doing this.

but would they find a consistent market for their work? Or

the respect of their peers? It's mean out there. And any one

who stands out as too different has to be prepared for the

slings and arrows associated with this building  style. I

imagine that makers who lean this way end up copying wonky old

violins, in order to be respected. " that's [ahem]  a Da

salo scroll, I would of course never design that my self, but,

it's a copy, you know."

And I see more and more players thinking a violin is a device, and

not a tool. And not realizing the distinction.

If they were to see one f-hole higher than the other, would most

see it a feature, or a flaw?

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Thanks for picking up on my comment. I would like to add:

If I own a violin with clearly identifiable distinguishing marks, would it not be easier to attribute this instrument in the future? Ok I am not talking about obvious rough construction by someone who is a novice or just unskilled, and whose violins sound the same. My dad was a tool and die maker, dealing in thousandths of millimeters, and he taught me to appreciate precision. But we are dealing with wood products here. How subtle do the differences have to be? I want to understand, and I read just about everything posted. There is something missing in the grand equation. My own violin is, based on the deafening silence to my post a while back, just some "provincial" also-ran with no discernible style or beauty. So why does it sound so great? It is because great sound can come out of many diverse models, materials, and condition, and speed of construction. Tops deform, necks are altered, varnish deteriorates, varnish is added, cleats are added, wood is removed, bass bars are changed, sometimes dimensions are even changed, and what about antiquing, ie artificial aging, that's pretty drastic. And yet makers talk about a snit here, a curve there that makes the difference between beauty and ugly. IMO, if an "ugly" violin produces a great sound, is it not necessary to redefine beauty, since the purpose of a violin is to allow great sound to be played on it?

Darren, if I see a violin with one f-hole higher than another and the violin sounds great, I would tend to attribute the good sound to the asymmetry, and look on it as a feature.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Darren Molnar

There probably are  violin makers out there who

would like to work from their own s, and have a type of

workmanship that emphasizes a wonderful tool,

material control, yet don't sweat the small details. And play

fast and loose with symmetry and the like. there may be a few brave

souls who are actually doing this.


Don't worry - there are.

quote:


And I see more and more players thinking a violin is a device, and

not a tool. And not realizing the distinction.

If they were to see one f-hole higher than the other, would most

see it a feature, or a flaw?

The violin is neither a device nor a tool. It is a work of functional art - the difference between a Strad and a Del Gesu is that between a Rembrandt and a Picasso. And I belive that the tone follows the look of the instrument (generally, that is) - a violin with a beefy, gouge-marked scroll would harldy be expected to have a sweet, Amatese tone.

I would see one f-hole higher than the other as a mark of the maker's confidence, and of their knowlegde of the balance between a careless aesthetic and a crystaline one, and ergo, as a feature.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Collin

The violin is neither a device nor a tool. It is a work of functional art - the difference between a Strad and a Del Gesu is that between a Rembrandt and a Picasso.


I'm not sure I agree with you... but even if it were so, I can't see that defining an instrument as "functional art" eliminates it as being a device or a tool. BTW; A court in NY accepted the definition of a Tourte 'cello bow as a tool, against the IRS definition of the bow as art.

I think of violin making making as a craft, although it can be approached "artistically", one does not have the freedom to alter the form past a certain point (if one still wishes to call the instrument a violin and be able to sell it as one).

quote:


And I belive that the tone follows the look of the instrument (generally, that is) - a violin with a beefy, gouge-marked scroll would harldy be expected to have a sweet, Amatese tone.

That would depend more on the modeling than the workmanship style, I think.

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quote:


I would rather compare del Gesu to van Gogh than to Picasso

I could see either. Picasso wasn't a detail person, del Gesu wasn't a detail person. van Gogh showed brush strokes, del Gesu showed gouge marks.

I feel like a presidential candidate working for damage control

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This is one of those issues for which the answer is actually so broad and multilayered that it's rather difficult to encompass efficiently.

There are as many levels of sophistication in the appreciation of violins as objects as there are in the appreciation of music. The buying public for modern instruments are mostly not at the top end of the range in this aspect of connoisseurship, so there is a sense in which the best, i.e. most sophisticated modern makers are working to please themselves and will only receive recognition for some of their finer touches from their peers.

There is tremendous variety in the work which came out of the Stradivari workshop. A quick scan through the Beare book makes this clear. There are also quite a few asymmetrical f-holes which come as a surprise even to some violin makers when they are pointed out.

So there is plenty of room for freedom of execution in the market, within certain constraints. There is also room for ultra-controlled machinist-style sterility. And there will inevitably be violins which have an abundance of that sort of confident competent quickly-worked character which Strauzart admires.

As to the violin world being tough critics, I think the same variety occurs in that regard. I'm sure one can find people who judge to a standard of mechanistic perfection, and I know for a fact that there are people high up the food chain who love just what Strauzart loves, at least the words are the same. But perhaps they see and appreciate it occurring in different ways, within different constraints than does Strauzart, I don't know.

If I'm understanding Strauzart's perception correctly, I'd say falstaff had the answer exactly right: there is freedom within the constraints.

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"I could see either. Picasso wasn't a detail person, del Gesu wasn't a detail person. van Gogh showed brush strokes, del Gesu showed gouge marks.

I feel like a presidential candidate working for damage control.."

What I meant was, I can think of del Gesu as an "expressionist", rather than a cubist or abstract craftsman/artist.

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Most of the subjects covered in this forum are by violin makers, and I am fascinated by what I learn in these pages. I would not presume to intrude if I didn't think that I could somehow contribute. But how do I do that when I have never made a violin? I have to do it as a purchaser and consumer and player. In business, companies prosper or fail based on the quality of and reaction to consumer input. In speaking my mind I hope to convey some sense of where this consumer is coming from and what makes me tick. Maybe I'm unique, maybe not. That is for the readers to determine. I am merely trying to say exactly what is on my mind, with no malice toward anyone. So I hope I am not coming across as critical toward any individual.

I think my goal in this post is to voice a concern that conformity and mechanistic perfection not take over in instrument making, which, from where I am sitting seems to be happening. Much has been said about the ultimate violin being perfected 300+- years ago. That would be like saying that olympians might as well quit trying for new records. Tastes change, materials change, expectations change, skills improve. Yes, the standards have been set, but as has been admitted there is leeway for variation within those standards. I am suggesting that leeway can be greater so far as the buying public is concerned, because I for one am having a hard time discerning the differences so adamently discussed. I will never spend a large sum of money on an instrument that is labelled copy of....., even if I win the lottery (tax free in Canada BTW) !. The wow factor for me is gone from anything that looks remotely like a pretty strad copy. I would want any expensive purchase to make a statement, both musically, and stylistically, which within the confines listed herein, must include larger as well as smaller upper bouts, more or less graduations, scoops, rounded or squared off dimensions, colouration, etc., and a label and certificate which proudly proclaims the maker, not his hero. I think beauty has to be redefined based more on quality of sound achieved, and less on ancient drawings and golden rules. If I could encourage a little more leaning toward individuality and personalized statements by todays' masterful craftsmen I would consider this post a success.

IMO all artists in all genres must eventually stop copying to become great.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
strauzart

Most of the subjects covered in this forum are by violin makers, and I am fascinated by what I learn in these pages. I would not presume to intrude if I didn't think that I could somehow contribute. But how do I do that when I have never made a violin? I have to do it as a purchaser and consumer and player. In business, companies prosper or fail based on the quality of and reaction to consumer input.


I'm not trying to be argumentative, but I think the present violin market and tastes is already a result of consumers "speaking".

quote:


In speaking my mind I hope to convey some sense of where this consumer is coming from and what makes me tick. Maybe I'm unique, maybe not. That is for the readers to determine. I am merely trying to say exactly what is on my mind, with no malice toward anyone. So I hope I am not coming across as critical toward any individual.

Nothing wrong with being an individual.

quote:


I think my goal in this post is to voice a concern that conformity and mechanistic perfection not take over in instrument making, which, from where I am sitting seems to be happening. Much has been said about the ultimate violin being perfected 300+- years ago. That would be like saying that olympians might as well quit trying for new records. Tastes change, materials change, expectations change, skills improve.

I don't agree with your statement or observation on several levels... but that's OK. BTW, there is a very large movement in the direction of what's been termed "innovation" in making these days. This is not the first time there has been such a movement. What comes out of this particular movement remains to be seen.

quote:


Yes, the standards have been set, but as has been admitted there is leeway for variation within those standards. I am suggesting that leeway can be greater so far as the buying public is concerned, because I for one am having a hard time discerning the differences so adamently discussed. I will never spend a large sum of money on an instrument that is labelled copy of....., even if I win the lottery (tax free in Canada BTW) !. The wow factor for me is gone from anything that looks remotely like a pretty strad copy. I would want any expensive purchase to make a statement, both musically, and stylistically, which within the confines listed herein, must include larger as well as smaller upper bouts, more or less graduations, scoops, rounded or squared off dimensions, colouration, etc., and a label and certificate which proudly proclaims the maker, not his hero.

Hmmmm.... Considering what you wrote about the instrument you recently acquired, I'd say maybe there are a few inconsistencies here. It seemed you were rather excited that there was a possible historic connection, though you did say the sound is what attracted you. I guess the true test of things would be what you actually did after you won the lottery (when you were actually a customer). It's easy to wax poetic before the fact.

quote:


I think beauty has to be redefined based more on quality of sound achieved, and less on ancient drawings and golden rules. If I could encourage a little more leaning toward individuality and personalized statements by todays' masterful craftsmen I would consider this post a success.

... and why does it have to be either/or?

quote:


IMO all artists in all genres must eventually stop copying to become great.

I'm still maintaining that violin making is a craft. It's performed by craftsman, not artists.

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The general form (model) of modern days violins which are copies of old masters is ingenuous. A few piece of wood with few hard ware

put together as a device which a human can use to make music. The design is a miracle. Simple and no nonsense.

Can it be improved? Nothing substantial, I think

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I think you do have a good point, Strauzart .Jeffrey Mentioned the

current innovation movement, I think that was, in some part, a

result of questions/observations similar to yours. A somewhat

wilder swing of the pendulum. But related. I'm totally on board for

stronger individuality.

Mass produced fiddles are getting better and better, still not

great, but they are learning fast. same statement for all of us

smaller makers. and every time we talk about our craft,

and things we learn as individuals within our craft, they are

reading alongside us. And taking it to the floor of the

factory the next morning, to see if they can incorporate

it. Maybe this is where individuality is going to become

important for survival.

quote:


I think beauty has to be redefined based more on quality of

sound achieved, and less on ancient drawings and golden rules. If I

could encourage a little more leaning toward individuality and

personalized statements by todays' masterful craftsmen I would

consider this post a success.


That's the rub, IMO. I don't think the majority buy their violins

based on sound. Esp. in the price point of a living wage for the

maker.

I wonder how many players, who feel the same way as you, are

putting their money behind their feelings, with regards to a living

maker. and requesting an original, confident, great

sound, warts included instrument. That kind of support would

 change the market trend, a bit. ( taking orders, BTW

 

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I'm sure there are room for all kinds of views in relation to this

subject. Here's mine.....

As a maker I'd say that I generally see a lot more when I look at a

violin than most non-makers or players see. To me all Strads

look different to each other and all 'strad copies look different

to strads and each other just as all human faces look different to

each other so do violins to me. I'm not meaning to sound

arrogant...this is just something that has happened because my

career depends on it!

And I have to say that I quite like Strad copies. Every one is

different and the differences are very revealing about the maker

and making of the instrument. In being a set format within which

infinite variation is found they reveal the personality of the

maker a bit like a concerto reveals the personality of the soloist.

In the way I enjoy to hear my favorite concerto played by numerous

different solsts I also never tire of seeing Strad

copies.......

I like Testores too

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Jeffrey Holmes

Hmmmm.... Considering what you wrote about the instrument you recently acquired, I'd say maybe there are a few inconsistencies here. It seemed you were rather excited that there was a possible historic connection, though you did say the sound is what attracted you. I guess the true test of things would be what you actually did after you won the lottery (when you were actually a customer). It's easy to wax poetic before the fact.


I did indeed have a sizable sum in my pocket after the sale of my former instrument, and also sat on substantial new money as well. I test drove violins to 6 figures in my search, so I consider myself well waxed

I bought the violin which sounded the best bar none, - warts, unproven attribution, less recognized shape notwithstanding. My one negative comment to the vendor was that if I bought it, this would be the ugliest violin I had ever owned (based on my own conception of beauty up to that point). He was puzzled as he had seen the beauty right away. I wonder how many other players will admit that they did not warm up to the looks of their instrument until they realized how great it sounded in their hands?

Of course the possibility of a historical connection for my violin was exciting. That is not an inconsistency. The whole point of this is that if there were more individuality, my violin might be more easily identified without doubt.

Mass production and facsimiles are all around us. If you want to be just a tradesperson you will end up competing against that whole lot. That has to be an uphill battle. I am a tax preparer. Pretty boring stuff and very rigid parameters, you say. But a well executed tax return is also a work of art. I utilize all of my skills in innovative ways to present unique legal opportunities to reduce my clients' taxes in a manner that they fully understand and concur with (sort of a light-bulb moment for them). My tax returns are rarely copies of..... but innovative, sometimes rough around the edges, sometimes superlatively crafted, but always understood and may I say "singing sweetly", which is precisely why clients search me out.

I wish I were 40 years younger. Violin making is the perfect art form, but not as copies. Makers of today have a unique opportunity. Never have tools and distribution methods been as good, never has so much information been available, never before has the opportunity for sharing knowledge and answering unique questions existed in real time. Humans still possess one attribute not available to machines (yet), the power to problem solve. You can't easily get a machine to alter the top of a violin just because the wood is 50 years old, has a wart in the lower bout, is more dense, etc. This takes original thinking, adjustment on the fly, and expertise and original carving, and that is the ticket to greatness, the art of violin making.

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It seems to be hard to accept how much a violin has in common with a dinner plate or a garden spade - or a wheel, for that matter. On the one hand one has to accept that the "ideal" tonal characteristics of a violin have pretty much been established. On the other hand, to fashion an object which acts like a wheel but looks like a rectangle seems to fascinate many. Like to eat your dinner off a neck tie, and tie a dinner plate around your neck - or to eat your water and drink your bread. No amount of "original thinking" can make a perfect circle rounder.

Some things are just the way they are, because they work the way they are - but I guess that could be considered to be boring.

Except that a regular boring old violin which looks and sounds good isn't all that easy to make. If it were, whence market prices?

Let's just wait till Strad copies which really look and sound like Strads become commonplace - or until a serious tonal and aesthetic alternative enters the market - and then continue this discussion.

Keep in mind that violin makers are artisans, not artists. If they were artists, violin making since 1750 has been moribund. If they are artisans (however artistic), then, according to many, the modern age is indeed one of the most fruitful in the history of lutherie since the 18th century.

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A related question:

How significant was (is) Simone Sacconi's influence on subsequent makers?

I ask this since an acquaintance and maker tells me he religiously devoured

his pedagogy and analysis of Stradivarius unquestioningly until recently

but now has decided to depart from some of his principles with regard to arching and plate graduation.

1450443.jpg

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Sacconi's book was such a big deal when it first came out that bootleg translations into English were circulating before the English translation became available. It was the only source of its kind and one often hears that it had a lot of influence on a lot of makers.

The information in the book is mostly in the form of conclusions and generalizations, and often the supporting evidence is missing. During the last 10-15 years or so many of those conclusions have begun to be questioned, so that in some quarters the book has lost some of its luster. Still the book remains a necessary part of the library of anyone who is interested in violin making.

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I bought Sacconi's book when it was published and I had to struggle to read through it with my rudimentary knowledge of the language. This is the only book I have, in addition to the old Hill's book. I also tried as much as I could to examine and play the real master works. Anyone who's interested in this book and can read Italian please contact me, I am ready to part with it.

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