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Anders Buen

Strad vs Modern - The results

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Soon we will get our Feb issue of the Strad with an article on the Strad vs Modern experiment we have discussed here. Now a couple of the authors, Joseph Curtin and Claudia Fritz, have made a FAQ on some of the discussed themes. Some of you will recongnize your names and quotes from the former discussion here, Martin Swan and Magnus Nedregaard among others. Take your time to read it through, as the authors have spent time on preparing serious answers to some of the the questions and discussion points.

The FAQ

There are also a fine collection of links to some of the articles there, and there is a free version of the original article available for download here.

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I have a question about this test.

First of all, it doesn't surprise me to find the modern violins did well. This general type of test has been being done for a good hundred years and the modern violin almost always wins. It does seem the testers were trying create as objective a test as possible; maybe more objective than ever before.

The question I have is what were the players playing? I have seen plenty of fine violinists trying out violins in a very loose way that I have found doesn't tell everything of importance. The article fairly admits that some players talk about needing to play an instrument with other instruments, and to me that is absolutely the main test of a violin. I learned this the hard way once when I drove hours to try out a recommended violin that sounded just great in the tryout room of a shop, but when I got into my quartet, it literally took 5 or 6 notes to realize the violin was garbage. It was a long drive back.

If the players were just noodling around playing some of this and some of that, the test would be less valid, IMO, than if they were playing in a "have to" situation, where every note counted and one had to play every note at an exact time, dynamic, and pitch. And to some extent, how a violin alleviates tension in a player rather than creating tension is something that separates fine instruments from lesser ones. And those things aren't being tested very well when the player is seeing what a violin does rather than seeing if the violin will do exactly what he wants it to do to, or if he can stop playing if uncomfortable, in my experience.

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I have a question about this test.

First of all, it doesn't surprise me to find the modern violins did well. This general type of test has been being done for a good hundred years and the modern violin almost always wins. It does seem the testers were trying create as objective a test as possible; maybe more objective than ever before.

The question I have is what were the players playing? I have seen plenty of fine violinists trying out violins in a very loose way that I have found doesn't tell everything of importance. The article fairly admits that some players talk about needing to play an instrument with other instruments, and to me that is absolutely the main test of a violin. I learned this the hard way once when I drove hours to try out a recommended violin that sounded just great in the tryout room of a shop, but when I got into my quartet, it literally took 5 or 6 notes to realize the violin was garbage. It was a long drive back.

If the players were just noodling around playing some of this and some of that, the test would be less valid, IMO, than if they were playing in a "have to" situation, where every note counted and one had to play every note at an exact time, dynamic, and pitch. And to some extent, how a violin alleviates tension in a player rather than creating tension is something that separates fine instruments from lesser ones. And those things aren't being tested very well when the player is seeing what a violin does rather than seeing if the violin will do exactly what he wants it to do to, or if he can stop playing if uncomfortable, in my experience.

Your questions are right on point. I've been waiting for a SERIOUS study of exactly what and how players test (for example, excerpts, not just settings) for years but at the rate things are going I don't have high hopes.

Fritz on her web page did not even bother to refute the point raised in an earlier thread that the test is NOT double-blind. Nor did she even begin to examine OBJECTIVE criteria some musicians use to test instruments. If Fritz is to have any credibility with musicians she's going have to uncover those first (and by that I don't mean "old" vs. "new").

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im not impressed by the rebuttal, for one thing all the people she quotes were on her side of the arguments, she still doesnt mention any kind of control group, and its so obvious she has a pro-modern slant, how could she possibly be objective about designing the test, when shes already made up her mind what the outcome is going to be.....

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For information that answers a lot of these questions, read one of the participants : My link

I think you have to assume that most of the other participants were equally competent and capable of finding their own mouths with a fork full of peas ...

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I find this kind of study funny, it is ludicrous to think that a modern instrument can not be as good as an old one, perhaps they would be much better if the classical musicians had more of an open mind, Bach and Mozart did.

The same happens in all styles of music, they think a certain sound is the characteristic sound for that style and stop at that, I've seen it with classical musicians, jazz (today they are square minded but Coltrane was not) , rock, hip-hop, electronic music - it's like an uniform, one must be the same as the others to belong, once the rules have been set, one is not allowed to get out of the standard.

Nothing bad about that, not criticizing it either, it's just a human characteristic, but it does slow down evolution.

Aren't they comparing similar sounding instruments?

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This sort of test topic has been dressed and re-dressed many times.

The difference is what you make it, but for a player these days the importance of playing 'an important' Strad cannot be ignored.

Pretentious and sad as it is, that's what all young music students grow up believeing, it's a weird kind of psychology.

Investors are also said to benefit from lending out their stock for players to use.

Strad vs Modern, results ? What results.

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Some of you will recongnize your names and quotes from the former discussion here

Were these people contacted for permission before Fritz used their quotes in her FAQ?

Andrew

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One aspect, which has been mentioned, is that an instrument must usually function in collaboration with other instruments unless you are planning a career of solo Bach suites.

This test did not address that question at all. I had this aspect driven home forcefully many years ago while listening to a rehearsal of the Mozart Concertante. The violinist's instrument was a Rocca which filled the hall with a large, vibrant sound as he warmed up to play. The violist (who had connections in the high end trade) suggested he might try a Strad that the violist had with him. The Strad sounded lovely but seemingly much softer and less bold - certainly the volume of the Rocca dwarfed it. The orchestra arrived and the violinist switched back and forth throughout the rehearsal. Strangely, the Rocca could be clearly heard only in the higher registers of the E string so much so that runs in the middle of the instrument could scarcely be heard at all. The Strad on the other hand projected every note with extreme clarity and with a heartbreaking beauty that gave an emotional meaning to phrases that was entirely lacking in the Rocca. The violinist, despite several of us in the audience suggesting the Strad would be preferable, chose the Rocca for the concert because of it's greater "power".

This experience taught me that testing a violin without the context of other instruments may lead to an incorrect assumption. By no means am I suggesting that all Strads possess the characteristics of the one I heard that day, or that modern instruments would not have the ability to project in the exactly the same way. I don't know enough and probably never will to have any certainty but I'm glad the comparisons are being done. Perhaps the next one could be in a quartet setting?

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One aspect, which has been mentioned, is that an instrument must usually function in collaboration with other instruments unless you are planning a career of solo Bach suites.

This test did not address that question at all. I had this aspect driven home forcefully many years ago while listening to a rehearsal of the Mozart Concertante. The violinist's instrument was a Rocca which filled the hall with a large, vibrant sound as he warmed up to play. The violist (who had connections in the high end trade) suggested he might try a Strad that the violist had with him. The Strad sounded lovely but seemingly much softer and less bold - certainly the volume of the Rocca dwarfed it. The orchestra arrived and the violinist switched back and forth throughout the rehearsal. Strangely, the Rocca could be clearly heard only in the higher registers of the E string so much so that runs in the middle of the instrument could scarcely be heard at all. The Strad on the other hand projected every note with extreme clarity and with a heartbreaking beauty that gave an emotional meaning to phrases that was entirely lacking in the Rocca. The violinist, despite several of us in the audience suggesting the Strad would be preferable, chose the Rocca for the concert because of it's greater "power".

This experience taught me that testing a violin without the context of other instruments may lead to an incorrect assumption. By no means am I suggesting that all Strads possess the characteristics of the one I heard that day, or that modern instruments would not have the ability to project in the exactly the same way. I don't know enough and probably never will to have any certainty but I'm glad the comparisons are being done. Perhaps the next one could be in a quartet setting?

Yup. Google "Why are TV commercials louder than the show?"

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Yup. Google "Why are TV commercials louder than the show?"

Because (I have been guilty of that on my few tv commercials out there - did not like doing it - the pay s good, but it has nothing to do with music) one wants to deliver a LOUD sounding commercial to the client, so compress and limit the hell out of it, who cares about dynamics, it's all about sales, TV shows and movies are not mixed/mastered that way, so much lower in volume.

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For information that answers a lot of these questions, read one of the participants : My link

I think you have to assume that most of the other participants were equally competent and capable of finding their own mouths with a fork full of peas ...

Thank you Martin for posting the link.

I too am sure these people are competent in general, without knowing them. But my argument is that without playing specific things under "battle field conditions" you can't tell everything a player might want or need to know about a violin. I've read your posts that you are a player, so I assume to one level or another you'd agree with me on that.

And I have seen at least one great concert violinist testing instruments and I can't say that's the way I would have done it. And I have seen one of the modern violins he bought, and it was bad. So a generalized level of competence of the players might not cut it in tests that are striving to be objective.

I"m not anti modern violin, and am perfectly happy and neutral about the outcome. Personally, when I try out violins, I don't think in terms of "old and new," but which violins are better or worse. I see that they seemed to dwell on age, and if that was the thrust of what they were trying to find out, then I will agree that the testing player could play just about anything in any fashion to get an overall sense and make his guess. But for determining good/bad/better/worse/more or less serviceable I think the playing part of a test ought to be more structured.

But I see I'm doing exactly what I blame others for, I'm beginning to write a lot before reading the article carefully. So I'll go back and read it very carefully.

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I can scarcely believe the noise that this topic has generated.

Even though the clearly stated aim of the experiment was MERELY to establish which instrument OF THE ONES TESTED IN THAT PARTICULAR ENVIRONMENT UNDER THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES the players would choose to take home, WITHOUT any other implied aims, volumes have been posted based on the posters' own invalid elaboration of the purpose of the experiment. As such, barely 5% of what has been spewed about it on this forum happens to be even vaguely on topic.

It's like somebody in a supermarket queue complaining that the weather "is hot", and everybody else starting to accuse him of sexual harassment.

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volumes have been posted based on the posters' own invalid elaboration of the purpose of the experiment. As such, barely 5% of what has been spewed about it on this forum happens to be even vaguely on topic.

It's like somebody in a supermarket queue complaining that the weather "is hot", and everybody else starting to accuse him of sexual harassment.

Where were you when those posts were fresh ? Bit late now...

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I can scarcely believe the noise that this topic has generated.

me neither

Even though the clearly stated aim of the experiment was MERELY to establish which instrument OF THE ONES TESTED IN THAT PARTICULAR ENVIRONMENT UNDER THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES the players would choose to take home, WITHOUT any other implied aims, volumes have been posted based on the posters' own invalid elaboration of the purpose of the experiment. As such, barely 5% of what has been spewed about it on this forum happens to be even vaguely on topic.

It's like somebody in a supermarket queue complaining that the weather "is hot", and everybody else starting to accuse him of sexual harassment.

Sorry Jacob, I think it's simply incorrect to say that there were no other implied aims. From the introduction: "Could a violinist’s preference for a Stradivari violin – and indeed, the pleasure he or she experiences in playing it – be in part attributable to an awareness of its multi-million dollar price tag and historical importance, both of which may be signaled by its distinctive appearance? Conversely, could the experience of playing a new violin be negatively affected by the belief that it is still centuries from tonal maturity? To avoid any such biases, we tested player preferences under double-blind conditions, using high-quality new violins together with distinguished ‘old Italians."

Seems like a pretty clear implied aim to me.

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Thank you for the article and the additional participants remarks.

I agree that playing in other conditions is very important,

and that arranging that would be very difficult.

But, a small change could partially compensate.

Each player should have he/r personal instrument included in the rotation.

Change to a standard chin rest maybe, but otherwise unchanged.

This would give some very interesting information about the players

experiential biases.

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I find this kind of study funny,

Is it the study ? Or reactions to the study? As Utah Phillips,RIP,said " you can lead a horse to water....but you can't rip his lips off......I can appreciate any player wanting to play an old violin ,the romance must be stunning,the embodied energy of 300 years ,But what about us mere mortals should we just not try? I aplaud Claudia's work It takes a brave person to stand up to tradition and make socratic arguments.Oh, If I were a rich man,ya da da da da dum!

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Nor did she even begin to examine OBJECTIVE criteria some musicians use to test instruments.

What exactly are the OBJECTIVE criteria that some musicians use to test instruments? How much it weighs or the length of the instrument? Those kind of objective criteria?

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What exactly are the OBJECTIVE criteria that some musicians use to test instruments? How much it weighs or the length of the instrument? Those kind of objective criteria?

I gave an example in that other long thread here on the Fritz test. Search for "chords."

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Is it the study ? Or reactions to the study? As Utah Phillips,RIP,said " you can lead a horse to water....but you can't rip his lips off......I can appreciate any player wanting to play an old violin ,the romance must be stunning,the embodied energy of 300 years ,But what about us mere mortals should we just not try? I aplaud Claudia's work It takes a brave person to stand up to tradition and make socratic arguments.Oh, If I were a rich man,ya da da da da dum!

I read it quickly, plus the facts link and posts, may have a wrong conclusion here, must read it carefully.

I thought it was as simple as:

We asked 21 experienced violinists to compare violins by Stradivari and Guarneri 'del Gesu' with high quality new instruments. The resulting preferences were based on the violinists' individual experiences of playing the instruments under double-blind conditions, in a room with relatively dry acoustics. We found that (1) the most-preferred violin was new; (2) the least-preferred was by Stradivari; (3) there was scant correlation between an instrument's age and monetary value and its perceived quality, and (4) most players seemed unable to tell whether their most-preferred instrument was new or old. These results present a striking challenge to conventional wisdom. Differences in taste among individual players, along with differences in playing qualities among individual instruments, appear more important than any general differences between new and old violins. Rather than searching for the "secret" of Stradivari, future research might best focus on how violinists evaluate instruments; on which specific playing qualities are most important to them, and on how these qualities relate to measurable attributes of the instruments - whether old or new.

But the "funny" was not related to the test or pros doing - loads of respect to all and the test - but more towards the fact that it is even questioned in the music world. As the results show.

Edit - just read it again, have not changed my opinion, but have one question:

Not being a violin player I can not say, but if it was a guitar, instrument setup could change the results, would it not in a violin?

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I can scarcely believe the noise that this topic has generated.

Even though the clearly stated aim of the experiment was MERELY to establish which instrument OF THE ONES TESTED IN THAT PARTICULAR ENVIRONMENT UNDER THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES the players would choose to take home, WITHOUT any other implied aims, volumes have been posted based on the posters' own invalid elaboration of the purpose of the experiment. As such, barely 5% of what has been spewed about it on this forum happens to be even vaguely on topic.

It's like somebody in a supermarket queue complaining that the weather "is hot", and everybody else starting to accuse him of sexual harassment.

What I find surreal is expectation of amateurs (makers), like myself, who devote so much time to the VISUAL study and appreciation of fiddles, who have sufficient difficulty distinguishing one fiddle apart from another by sight, should all the sudden be magically endowed with superhuman aural abilities.

How many players really have the vast breadth of experience playing a wide range of fiddles? I am reminded of the (American) episode of "The Office" where Michael goes to Benihana (an Asian-themed chain restaurant) and can't tell the two Asian waitresses apart.

We might as well give up now and admit Picasso was a lousy painter.

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Not being a violin player I can not say, but if it was a guitar, instrument setup could change the results, would it not in a violin?

Set up matters greatly in a violin ,even my poor old battered ears and limited experience,I can hear lousy vs good set up,BUT, I have to assume that because the instrument came from ,not just any group,the Indianapolis competition is only for the very good,and one does not set foot into such an arena with out having spit polished every facet within reach ...set up included, so even though the set ups might vary,and were set up by different people ect.ect ad nausium, the owners I am sure, were not putting out any thing less than what they considered to be "The Best". The same holds true for the testers, all seem to have come from stellar backgrounds and possess qualities of observation and ability, that far exceed the average fiddler,or violinist for that matter.What's not to get?

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The question I have is what were the players playing?

Not being a violin player I can not say, but if it was a guitar, instrument setup could change the results, would it not in a violin?

Gee, even if you post a link, they still don't read it before criticizing. They don't even read the FAQ.

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Where were you when those posts were fresh ? Bit late now...

I could hardly have commented on the volume of verbal weeds prior to their attaining "volume" status, don't you think?

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