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Does age matter?


joerobson
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There is a selection effect with age: The better instruments tend to be cared for and thus are more likely to survive. ;)

Of course, you must be asking whether the aging process of materials improves tone. Probably true, but there must be a plateau achieved at some age. The "usual suspects" are wood and varnish. I wonder whether joints also improve by limbering up.

Stay tuned.

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Independent of all other factors...maker, set-up, varnish, form, played, not played, everything else....

Is the sound of an instrument better simply because it survives to great age?

pondering,

Joe

I really don't think so. The passing of time allows for the weeding out of the bad instruments so that mostly the good ones are left for us to use, decades and centuries later. I think it's like music. From the Baroque period, mostly Bach and Vivaldi are heard in concert halls and recorded. There were oodles of other composers whose works have not withstood the test of time, deserved and not. A poorly made instrument from 1700 has lesser chance of surviving than a well made one.

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Independent of all other factors...maker, set-up, varnish, form, played, not played, everything else....

Is the sound of an instrument better simply because it survives to great age?

pondering,

Joe

You mean like, "the older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune?" I think the answer may be no. A friend of mine went to see the Lady Blunt when it was on display and apparently Joshua Bell or someone of that calibre was trying it out and apparently it sounded like "s**t" (quoting here). I notice Menuhin put it down pretty quickly with a polite "very nice" back in the 70s on the Tarisio site video. I have heard the same sort of anecdotal "well preserved but sounds awful" thing about the Messie at Oxford. Imagine a contest between it and the Soil. Meaning that there must be more important factors than mere age like the ones you mentioned.

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No luck finding the proverbial ten-foot-pole without which I had no intention of touching the subject, since it has been beaten to death on several separate occasions over the years, with no consensus in sight.

That being said, you specified some conditions that, in my opinion rule out all the "what-if"ers (care, playing, etc.) around which all the arguments seem to revolve. If those are all ruled out, then I think the answer is "no": age alone does not ensure good sound.

Perhaps similar to the false concept that age ensures wisdom. There are those to whom the years bring only age, not wisdom.

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No luck finding the proverbial ten-foot-pole without which I had no intention of touching the subject, since it has been beaten to death on several separate occasions over the years, with no consensus in sight.

That being said, you specified some conditions that, in my opinion rule out all the "what-if"ers (care, playing, etc.) around which all the arguments seem to revolve. If those are all ruled out, then I think the answer is "no": age alone does not ensure good sound.

Perhaps similar to the false concept that age ensures wisdom. There are those to whom the years bring only age, not wisdom.

Chet,

My point is not to till previously abused soil.....

only this:

IF age alone is not a significant factor in the sound of an instrument, THEN, by extrapolation, we should assume that it is possible for a modern instrument to be as good in all ways as the masterful instruments of the past.

still pondering,

Joe

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But if I believe what I read here and there, Stradivari violins were already very praised when he was still alive. So Basically new violins should be as good as any. And Paganini was very fond of the cannon while this violin was not that old (some 70-80 years)

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Is the sound of an instrument better simply because it survives to great age?

Clearly there is no way to determine an answer to this objectively. Even if you were able to precisely measure the effects of age alone on tone, there is the "better" evaluation to contend with. There logically will be some change, as age alone does do something to wood chemistry, and therefore properties, and therefore tone.

Subjectively, I'd say yes, age improves sound.

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Hi Joe,

My guess is that age has nothing to do with better sound, as there are some really great sounding new instruments now, but that the next generation's notion of "better" sound changes and then the "psychological" aspect of older instruments "make" them better.

Short answer no they're not better past say 10yrs as the chemical changes stabilize.

Jesse

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Independent of all other factors...maker, set-up, varnish, form, played, not played, everything else....

Is the sound of an instrument better simply because it survives to great age?

pondering,

Joe

Many years ago I used to know a maker who kept for himself a good portion of his production spanning some 40 years - some 60 violins in total. Minimal variation, they were all copies of the same Amati his wife used to own, and almost never played. The "goodness" dependended on the varnish : the ones varnished with mastic +x got better. The ones varnished with copal+x got decidedly worse. This parallels something I've seen often : varnish seems to make a great deal of difference in how the instrument will develop.

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Impossible, alas, to compare new vs. VERY old instrument sound...

My own impression, based on my own work over 30 years, is that the basic "signature" of the instrument remains the same, but the tone softens around the edges.

A clumsy analogy might be a new vs. aged wine of the same vintage.

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I'd be tempted to believe that, Don, except that violins have been made, using 500-year-old wood, and were not at all superior in tone. Unless you gotta use old glue, too...

OK, you just blew my mind. Where on earth does one find 500 yr. old wood? You mean like old castle wood or the sunken log stuff? Also if the craftsmanship on a fiddle made with 500 yr. old wood is comparable to Strad or del Gesu and call it similar varnish materials...and yet the fiddle still didn't sound as good...sheesh, makes you wonder just what kind of geniuses they were in those days.

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500 year old wood might not necessarily be good; in another 200 years, maybe all Cremonese instruments will sound terrible. There might be an over-aging thing.

And not all wood is created equal, anyway... bad tonewood may improve with age, but still be bad; you probably don't have much to select from in the 500-year-old bin.

And aging in a 3mm thin plate may not be the same as aging in a thick slab.

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All true: and to answer your question, Steve, yes the woods came from an old building (in Austria, I think) where the dates were definitely known. The makers were experienced, and (though I can't say for sure) I would imagine they simply compared them against their own normal product-- if the old wood was the magic bullet, then there should be a noticable jump in sound quality, however one defines such a thing.

But there was not such an improvement--maybe it went the other way, in fact, but I don't recall for sure. This was not an isolated case, either, as old wood has been rescued from old barns, furniture, boats, etc. many times (all different ages), and as I recall no one has concluded that they had found the holy grail of lutherie.

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My personal conclusion, and it may seem a cop-out, is that The Cremonese Masters were just that: masters at their craft; perhaps the best the world has ever seen.

Did they understand anything about the technical aspects of what they did? Who knows? Since they left no written treatises explaining their methods, and world-views, we may as well ask a buzzard if he understands Bernoulli's principle. Or ask a fish about water...

All we really have to go on is what they actually accomplished, and we do our best to discern how it works. I remember reading how when the principles of aeronautics, aerodynamics, etc. were still being hashed out, they discovered that according to their rules, etc. a bumblebee should not be able to fly (given weight to area of wing, etc.).

Fortunately they had the sense not to argue with the bumblebee about the issue. (Or maybe they tried, but she couldn't handle the math, so she flew away...) My point is, they had the sense to recognize the facts did not fit the theory, so, rather than mangling the facts, they reconsidered the theory, and found their error. Turns out the bumblebee was OK to start with (glad you approve!)

It seems that, in the absence of the old Masters, we have to work the same way the early pioneers in flight worked-- observing the silent witness of the gulls, etc.-- and asking, "How does it work?"

That is what everyone is doing, and I think it has paid off. But maybe that is just the coffee talking...

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From what I've read of the few double-blind tests that have been done, people can't really differentiate old quality italians from quality new instruments and often prefer the sound of the new instrument to the old ones. If age is doing very much then the old italians must have started off worse. To me at least, it seems like age isn't doing enough to worry about.

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I'd say a violin can alter with age - but just as likely a good one could get worse or a bad one get better - or just a change in tonal colour. Likely culprits - wood and varnish.

Thats playing safe - theres not much else there except wood and varnish !

Geoff

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