What makes Strad so special?


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I've been hearing that a mint condition Strad costs like millions. Now mind you, I'm not a Violinist but rather a guitarist, I'm interested in knowing what makes Strad different than others. In guitar world, Antonio De Torres was the one that revolutionalized the modern way of making guitar, but Strad on the other hand, was the primary. So you know, I've been hearing player that use strads vs Violin that I always hear, it doesn't sound much different. At the end of the day, regular audience will be amazed by how you play it, but not the violin. So anyone here can explain me what makes a Strad so special?

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There has been a double blind study that (I shouldn't use the word concluded) but really said a lot about the fact that old Italians are just normal violins in terms of sound. Experts weren't able to reliably distinguish a Strad or Del Gesú from new violins from good makers.

I think that the allure with Strads is the pedigree behind them. All of the famous soloists, and famous stories attached to them.

Their antique value adds a lot to. They are pieces of history that are still very much in service today.

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Daniel, for a sane, normal, non-violin playing person, your question is perfectly reasonable. For some of the violin-crazy people who hang around this forum, it could be exasperating, like someone walking into an art gallery and saying, why would you pay so much money for a splotch of paint like that? A Strad is a relatively rare, beautiful, 300 year old piece of functional (most of the time) art work that has tons of history, legend and desire attached to it. There were enough made, and enough still in circulation (600-700 or so left, I think) that just about everyone, even non musicians, have heard of them, but obviously, there are no current factory re-issues. Many of the greatest violinists in history used one, so there is the fetishism of wanting to use what the greatest used. They've always been expensive and sought after, even when they were new. The designs Strad came up with, especially for his "golden period," from about 1700-1720, is still considered pretty hard to beat, and violin makers have been successfully copying it for 250 years or so. It can and will be forever argued whether the sound is so magical that it justifies a price over a hundred times the price of the best modern copy, but if you buy a Strad, you're clearly not paying for the sound alone. This is what people who can afford one are willing to pay. Look at other 250-350 year old violins, and you'll see similar if not higher prices for a few of the violins you may have never heard of but that rival Strads in the minds of players and collectors, like Guarneri Del Gesus and Bergonzis. The best Guadagninis have broken the $1 million ceiling, and the less expensive Guarneris and Amatis are edging their way to the million mark. Of course, there are (a few) 300 year old English, French, German and Dutch violins that generally don't go for that kind of money, but they still usually fetch considerably more than the best modern violins, when we're talking about a well made violin in good condition. Are these prices rational? As a sane, rational non-violinist looking in at our "asylum," only you can decide for yourself!

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Supply and demand.

 

Also, Big Name players are expected to play Big Name instruments - people pay to hear them play, but they WANT them to be playing something rare and expensive too...it's part of the performance allure.

 

Mind you, the violinist could be playing a copy and likely no one would notice as long as they believe the player is performing on something special.  So most of the 'magic' really does reside in the talent of the performer.  ^_^

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Stradivarius was the inventor and genius behind modern violin design. People pay a lot to have something hand-made by the originator. It is why an original Apple-1 computer hand-made by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak sold at auction for almost $1 million, and it has no utility as computer anymore.

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Stradivarius was the inventor and genius behind modern violin design. People pay a lot to have something hand-made by the originator. It is why an original Apple-1 computer hand-made by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak sold at auction for almost $1 million, and it has no utility as computer anymore.

After this post, I came to a realization. You sir, just answered my question 100%. I just realized that!

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However, most of the reasons put forward could be applied to other types of instruments. But only with the violin family do top performers prefer and choose to concertize on historical instruments. We even retro fit advances in set up onto the old instruments.

So something further is driving the desire actually use these instruments, rather than just collect and admire them.

I would suggest that the general methods of old Italian making simply proved more effective than the methods of later generations and other regions.

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Supposedly, some of the new carbon fiber violins have been fashioned in such a way to make them sound like Strads and they go for 5K.     I haven't been able to get my hands on any of those yet. 

 

The numerous studies always have people divided into 2 camps.    Despite repeated studies that indicate the listener cannot tell and the player cannot tell, the purists always argue the results.     Their biggest argument is that a good player needs a month of practice to "learn the violin."    Handing someone instruments back to back means nothing.  

 

I don't actually believe their is anything special about Strads other than their history.    However, I also agree that people learn specific violins and produce a better sound after spending more time on an instrument.   (however un-scientific that might sound)   I gave a violin to a student of mine at one point.     A violin that was a solid 2nd in my rotation.   I could never quite get the same sound out of the instrument as I could my number 1.     After a couple of months of playing the violin, she sounded much better on it than I ever had.     So I do think that people learn the specific behaviors of an instrument they spend a lot of time with. 

 

CD

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However, most of the reasons put forward could be applied to other types of instruments. But only with the violin family do top performers prefer and choose to concertize on historical instruments. We even retro fit advances in set up onto the old instruments.

So something further is driving the desire actually use these instruments, rather than just collect and admire them.

I would suggest that the general methods of old Italian making simply proved more effective than the methods of later generations and other regions.

I expect the artists are well aware of the history of the instrument they are playing, and that has a big affect on their opinion of how good it sounds. 

The things I see coming into play are:

 

1. The aura of the instrument - history, age, etc. and it is still working.

2. The "cost" (note I didn't say value) of the instrument - most people are impressed by big numbers, more zeros on the end make it more impressive.

3. Both the artist and the audience can after a performance have "bragging" rights to having been present at the performance. 

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I am sure it is very similar to the bottled water phenomena. It has been shown MANY times that if a high end restaurant re bottles city tap water into bottles with expensive looking/sounding labels, customers will describe the water as better than the water in the less expensive bottles - even when both bottles have the same water. Expectations are the reason for double blind tests.

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Daniel, for a sane, normal, non-violin playing person, your question is perfectly reasonable. For some of the violin-crazy people who hang around this forum, it could be exasperating, like someone walking into an art gallery and saying, why would you pay so much money for a splotch of paint like that? A Strad is a relatively rare, beautiful, 300 year old piece of functional (most of the time) art work that has tons of history, legend and desire attached to it. There were enough made, and enough still in circulation (600-700 or so left, I think) that just about everyone, even non musicians, have heard of them, but obviously, there are no current factory re-issues. Many of the greatest violinists in history used one, so there is the fetishism of wanting to use what the greatest used. They've always been expensive and sought after, even when they were new. The designs Strad came up with, especially for his "golden period," from about 1700-1720, is still considered pretty hard to beat, and violin makers have been successfully copying it for 250 years or so. It can and will be forever argued whether the sound is so magical that it justifies a price over a hundred times the price of the best modern copy, but if you buy a Strad, you're clearly not paying for the sound alone. This is what people who can afford one are willing to pay. Look at other 250-350 year old violins, and you'll see similar if not higher prices for a few of the violins you may have never heard of but that rival Strads in the minds of players and collectors, like Guarneri Del Gesus and Bergonzis. The best Guadagninis have broken the $1 million ceiling, and the less expensive Guarneris and Amatis are edging their way to the million mark. Of course, there are (a few) 300 year old English, French, German and Dutch violins that generally don't go for that kind of money, but they still usually fetch considerably more than the best modern violins, when we're talking about a well made violin in good condition. Are these prices rational? As a sane, rational non-violinist looking in at our "asylum," only you can decide for yourself!

The parallel drawn with "modern" art is a "non-starter".  The (late 19th. Century European/American) production of non-representational art and its popularity in certain elite aesthetic circles began as a form of social and political protest, and it still bears that connotation today.  That the public and conservative elites abhor it is part of its allure to its aficionados, as is the implication that they are a cut above by being able to "appreciate" it.  This has nothing to do with the violins of Strad and his contemporaries, which were produced in the mainstream of their contemporary culture, and were "accessible" to any player, whether noble or out-at-heels sonadore, who could afford or otherwise procure one, just as anyone can appreciate a Michelangelo without having an art degree.  Comparing the market for Strads to that for Old Master art is much closer, IMHO (the provenances are seldom in question), as is the antiquities market a closer parallel for the traffic in less well known antique violins (both places where fraud is rampant).

 

The question of a Strad's utility value versus its intangible value is a separate issue entirely, and one which I believe has been sufficiently plowed and replowed elsewhere. :)

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The following are my personal opinions based on my personal experience and the scientific literature on this subject. They may reflect nothing but my personal bias. 

 

What makes the Strad so special? 

 

>> The tone quality and projection that it produces in the hands of the finest players. There are perhaps still 50 (?) Strads which can make this magical sound. The rest can range from very good to mediocre (unfit for concerts), but still command premium prices for their values as famous antiques. The differences between the best Strads and the best modern violins or the best Guadagnini/Vuillaume/Montagnana are quite subtle. Due to the issue of memory decay (5 seconds for our echoic memory), such subtle differences cannot be demonstrated through blind tests which rely on short-term echoic memory. Some reports have tried to illustrate these differences through sound recordings or vibration studies, but no consensus has been formed in research community.  

 

Why are the Strads so special? 

 

>> Stradivari had perfected violin models and fine tuned everything with his genius (these two factors set him apart). He also inherited the working knowledge of Cremona, which included the choice of wood and the varnish recipes (the whole town was working at a very high standard). His maple was mineral treated (not sure if this makes a big difference, and spruce has not been analyzed yet). In fact, we will soon find out that Stradivari, Guarneri, and Amati all had different mineral formulations in their maples (new papers coming in 2017/2018). 

 

After 300 years, Strad instruments have undergone aging (hemicellulose hydrolysis, reduced moisture absorption) and have been transformed by playing (causing molecular rearrangement). This study will come out in January 2017.  

 

Due to aging, vibration, and chemical treatment, the chemical properties of wood are very different in a Strad compared to any modern instrument under 100 years old. People have tried to use old wood and artificially aged wood  but there are many hidden pitfalls with these approaches which are too complex and too technical to be explained here. It is very unlikely for a modern violin to mimic the sound of the top Strads due to huge differences in wood properties, in my humble opinion. Although amazing players like Vengerov or Ning Feng may prefer to play the top Strads or del Gesus for their amazing tone, they can still sound really amazing with top modern violins and older French violins as well.

 

Here is how I analyze the importance of Strads, using numbers as rough analogies. I kind of think the player accounts for 70%, the violin 20%, and the bow 10% when it comes to the sound quality of playing. If the violin setup is optimal, the difference between a top Strad and a top modern is, in my opinion, 2-5% of the final output quality. For perfectionists like the great virtuosos and people who can appreciate the virtuosos, even 1% difference matters. On top of the sound quality issue, musical emotions and interpretations are even more important. 

 

If we make all the Strads and del Gesus disappear from this world, classical music will hardly suffer. But those who have experienced the magic will be very sad and traumatized. Think of Jacqueline du Pre--there are still so many great cellists in the world after her career was cut tragically short. Her illness did not really cause the cello to decline in any significant way. But for her fans, the loss was tragic and traumatic. Jacqueline du Pre's legacy matters. Stradivari's legacy also matters. 

 

The reason that I know that new studies will come out is because I intend to publish them. 

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Stradivarius was the inventor and genius behind modern violin design. People pay a lot to have something hand-made by the originator. It is why an original Apple-1 computer hand-made by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak sold at auction for almost $1 million, and it has no utility as computer anymore.

post-48078-0-51496700-1480716569_thumb.jpgpost-48078-0-31189900-1480716595_thumb.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

One fiddle was made in 1614,,,

 

One was made in 1704,,,

 

easy question,, if Strad was born in 1644,,

 

which fiddle did he make and what did he invent?

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The price issue is one aspect of Strads, and I can't separate out what is due to investors, collectors, or what might be due to their utility as a performing tool.  The issue is moot for me; I'm never going to have one.

 

Ignoring that, I still think Strad was special... not for inventing the modern violin (which as Evan pointed out, is a bit of a stretch), but for being a supremely talented luthier, cranking them out at a prolific rate, and living such a long productive life that a huge number of them still exist.  And with the variable nature of wood and the resulting violins, making a lot of them helps to make some really great instruments.  Whether any of these found their way into blind testing, only a few people would know, and they won't tell.  

 

In any case, I think the Strad reputation is well-deserved, although not everything he built is all that special if you only consider the playing aspect.

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Naturally you will be very accustomed to handling these instruments and are probably on your way to perform at the Concertgebow right now

Nothing like an ad hominem cheap shot to make your position more plausible. :rolleyes:   Melvin, are you seriously disputing that collectors (willing and able to pay more than mere players are), including museums and investors, along with various commission-charging intermediaries involved in the sales process, have contributed to the rather unusual inflation in antique Cremonese fiddle prices experienced since WW2?  I hope not, because they certainly have, and Nick's observation, while lacking polish, has some validity.  Fine violins just aren't in a transparently understandable market.  :)

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