John_London

what determines the sound a luthier aims at?

Recommended Posts

I hesitate to ask because I hang around here trying to learn from people who know about violins, and struggle to give much back. I have just read a 30 page 2014 thread on the the secret of Stradviarius. The more I read the more I puzzled and sceptical I grow.

Here goes with another question: when luthiers say their best modern colleagues are almost as good as the great ancient makers, what is the standard? Put another way, what sound and qualities would a maker have to meet to exceed the best Strads and Del Gesus?

Or do those famous instruments set the standard which makers aspire to? In which case the idea of exceeding the old makers does not exist, only the idea of matching them, and 'almost as good as' would mean 'almost the same as'.

The sounds made by violinsts in the history of recording have changed so much--where is the model for a Del Gesu sound coming from? Anyone copying the ex Bazzini Del Gesu might listen to Rachel Barton Pine playing the original to get an idea of its sound. That would be a mistake. They had better go to YouTube and seek out recordings of Marie Soldat-Röger, also a great violinist who had the same violin on lifetime loan, and it is said to be the instrument Brahms specifically recommended for her. Not only was the instrument less old then, her sound was so dated even when the recordings were made that that it is likely to be very much closer to what Del Gesu would have had in his mind's ear, than any modern violinist. It is therefore the best available guide to the sound which a luthier who seeks to match Del Gesu should aim for.

My real view is the whole quest is hopeless, and I had thought of starting a thread on why I could buy a violin only pleasing looks and feel in the hand rather than supposed sound, provided the instrument is acoustically live, responsive, and not so weak in treble or bass that it is not worth investing in setup. However, plenty of knowledgable people, for example in that 'Secret of Straidvarius' thread, do seem to have the concept that they are aiming for a good or particular sound when building an instrument.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't have much on the info you are seeking as I'm seeking it too. I have a good friend who has a classical background in viola, a very good fiddler and good violin/fiddle teacher that once told me that instruments by the same maker have very similar sounds. I don't know what others think about that comment? Currently I make a Strad model and a Del Gesu model. To me they each have there own sound. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just an opinion:

I would say you're right about the old instruments setting the standard and acting as a reference.   

On the other hand, old pianos and trumpets aren't the reference in their fields, for example.    So this reference arises and is sustained by the best players historically and still finding themselves most often most comfortable and happy playing these instruments.   

If one succeeded in making an instrument that the best players more often and more consistently found more satisfying and comfortable to play and perform on, then that would have fair claim to be a better instrument.

 

And tastes can and do change with time.  So it's quite amazing that these instruments have been the favorite for so long.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, John_London said:

 It is therefore the best available guide to the sound which a luthier who seeks to match Del Gesu should aim for.

I bet I could match that sound using a handful of old built like a tank cottage industry instruments, a few sets of pure gut strings and soundpost setting tools and materials searching for wood that hasn't been left too terribly thick on the bass side belly as well as enough wood/support in the back plate for a place to start to match your perceived sound you think is best.

  What may be best for you is to find and hopefully hang around people, preferably players, that have been around such instruments that have the sound you're looking for.  Then, with their help, you really have a better idea of what you want to get for a violin new or used. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, John_London said:

The sounds made by violinsts in the history of recording have changed so much--where is the model for a Del Gesu sound coming from? Anyone copying the ex Bazzini Del Gesu might listen to Rachel Barton Pine playing the original to get an idea of its sound. That would be a mistake. They had better go to YouTube and seek out recordings of Marie Soldat-Röger, also a great violinist who had the same violin on lifetime loan, and it is said to be the instrument Brahms specifically recommended for her.

Are you saying that the sound of the violin itself changed between the period that Soldat stopped using it and Pine began playing it ?

If so, how would a change of sound happen ?

The plates have been thinned during the interim ?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
44 minutes ago, Delabo said:

Are you saying that the sound of the violin itself changed between the period that Soldat stopped using it and Pine began playing it ?

If so, how would a change of sound happen ?

The plates have been thinned during the interim ?

I am not saying that, though of course we cannot know. She is sure to sound different with a different bow arm and almost no vibrato which is consistent with what we can read and with some other early recordings such as the Auer or the little we have of Joachim. Besides, different setup, particularly choice of strings, will have a larger effect on sound than almost anything else about a good instrument.

What I am saying is some makers talk about having a sound they are aiming for when building, and tend to believe that the old makers did that also. In so, when making a close copy, where is the logic in aiming for a sound which we know would be unlikely to exist in the musical and sound universe of somone living in seventeenth century Cremona?

What I am implying is that the voice of the instrument does not matter much, although it exists. If you put two somewhat similarly trained violinists on two different instruments, you will detect a difference in voice, to some extent, whereas the older players we have on record always sound like themselves because the training was more fluid, apparently less directive, and the musical concepts different.

Even with modern playing, the player makes the sound. I listened to the recording posted by David Beard all the way through. When tuning up the first violin, on the left, has a somewhat brighter sound, probably assisted by where he is standing in relation to the large piano. In a rather contradictory logic, both the louder player and the louder instrument have been given the first part (should have been one or the other for better balance). The instrument on the right has a fair amount of ring when tuning up, and based on that it is a violin I'd be very happy with even taking the Strad name out of the picture. You hear the ring less when she plays because comparing the solo passages, which are anyway fewer for the second, the first violinist's bow arm is better, his bow speed is a bit more varied, his sounding point is more varied, and he tends to play closer to the bridge than she does when they want a louder dynamic.

The video is supposed to show 'what two Strads sound like'. To me it shows what two capable trained violinists in a fairly standard modern style sound like on two very nice, well set up, clear, and resonsnat violins in an acoustically live space. And if one were to accept my thesis that a violinist should not really be looking for the instrument's voice but giving the instrument a voice, provided it is well set up, then it makes less sense for luthiers and dealers to sell violins on their voice, or for players to buy instruments for their voice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, John_London said:

I hesitate to ask because I hang around here trying to learn from people who know about violins, and struggle to give much back. I have just read a 30 page 2014 thread on the the secret of Stradviarius. The more I read the more I puzzled and sceptical I grow.

Here goes with another question: when luthiers say their best modern colleagues are almost as good as the great ancient makers, what is the standard? Put another way, what sound and qualities would a maker have to meet to exceed the best Strads and Del Gesus?

Or do those famous instruments set the standard which makers aspire to? In which case the idea of exceeding the old makers does not exist, only the idea of matching them, and 'almost as good as' would mean 'almost the same as'.

 

In general, it is these old instruments which set the standards, as they are today and using current playing styles. Why? Largely because that's what many musicians believe should serve as the high-end reference standard.  When a contemporary instrument is considered almost as good or better, it's usually because when compared with these old instruments, it is very similar, or has one or more qualities which are thought by players and/or listeners to be subjectively superior, while having no major properties which would make it much worse or too different.

Why use the old instruments as they are today, using current playing styles for these comparisons? Simply because that's about all which is available, and current playing styles are most of these musicians will be using in real life.

I doubt very much that one could win an audition for one of "the major orchestras" , using completely original and unaltered 17th century equipment, or a playing style from that period.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, John_London said:

They had better go to YouTube and seek out recordings of Marie Soldat-Röger, also a great violinist who had the same violin on lifetime loan, and it is said to be the instrument Brahms specifically recommended for her. Not only was the instrument less old then, her sound was so dated even when the recordings were made that that it is likely to be very much closer to what Del Gesu would have had in his mind's ear, than any modern violinist. It is therefore the best available guide to the sound which a luthier who seeks to match Del Gesu should aim for

John: thanks for mentioning this performer Marie Soldat-Röger. (YouTube link) I had never heard her playing before. It's impressively precise playing, with enjoyable timing. The slower portamento is definitely dated (sounds like some recordings I have heard of Ysaÿe), but I imagine hearing this live it would have sounded less overpowering (we don't get any sense of vocal depth, just the pitch rising or falling at a relatively constant volume and rate; equalized out). I sense a careful, intellectual approach to the piece I heard her playing, and can't imagine "bad taste" integrated into her performance. I suspect she was searching for the same basic qualities in an instrument that contemporary violinists are.

As an aside, wow! Kreisler, Heifetz et al. really threw the music world for a loop, stylistically speaking! It would be interesting to start a "Romantic era performance practice" revival, just to see what practical musical truths / benefits can be rediscovered. (I believe the Baroque performance practice researchers and performers have done an invaluable service to modern interpretation, and wonder if something similar could be done for the later periods?)

Quote

Here goes with another question: when luthiers say their best modern colleagues are almost as good as the great ancient makers, what is the standard?

A thought: in my opinion the best modern colleagues have already made instruments of the same or possibly higher standards (given that not all the old guys were as fastidious as Strad!). I mean that in terms of both tone and worksmanship. I don't say that lightly; I've had the good fortune to play over twenty del Gesu's among a whole raft of other Cremonese makers. As a performer I have access to quite a number of fine old Italian violins, but I much prefer my two favorite instruments (all made within the last 30 years)...

Quote

I doubt very much that one could win an audition for one of "the major orchestras" , using completely original and unaltered 17th century equipment, or a playing style from that period.

I certainly wouldn't want to try!

Edited by Scoiattola
insert video link

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
15 hours ago, John_London said:

...what sound and qualities would a maker have to meet to exceed the best Strads and Del Gesus?

You'd have to make an instrument that sounds exactly like them... but louder.

That's just a half-serious answer, as anything other than that would be "different", and, since there is no objective scale to decide if something exceeds or falls short of a given mark, you can never get an answer that consistently holds true.  There is also some considerable potential for the aging effects and/or "playing in" of the Cremonese instruments that could affect performance in certain ways that are difficult or even impossible to duplicate, thus rendering anything made today "different", and only personal opinion determines better or worse.

As to what a modern luthier aims for, you pretty much hit it:

15 hours ago, John_London said:

 acoustically live, responsive, and not so weak in treble or bass

I would only add as a goal to get an even response... no overly strong notes that leap out, and no dropouts.  There are undoubtedly a few more items that could be added in the playability area, but that gets pretty arm-wavy.

Oh... balance, which depends on the intended use.  A casual fiddler generally prefers a more bass balance, and a classical soloist would want more midrange and high end power.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think David's post is spot on.

I might ask, are there recent makers that deliberately try to shoot for a tone that significantly deviates from the old Italians? Are they successful in achieving their goal and what modern players like them? 

I might think that viola makers have been more successful at introducing different tonal palates than with violins.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

[Ducks behind the bar for cover]

As has already been touched upon (as well as pointed out in many other similar threads), no authoritative standard for violin sound exists.  What any individual maker shoots for (omitting those makers [a minority of bespoke  makers, and a majority of mass producers] to whom sound is merely a byproduct of visual aesthetics) will, IMHO, depend on the auditory acuity, personal musical tastes, and acoustic prejudices/preconceptions of individual makers.  I feel that more than just a few carve out a violin that "sounds good" to themselves, and hope that a buyer agrees.  I would suggest " 'twas ever thus".  [Escapes through the dumbwaiter.]  :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Violadamore said:

[Ducks behind the bar for cover]

As has already been touched upon (as well as pointed out in many other similar threads), no authoritative standard for violin sound exists.  What any individual maker shoots for (omitting those makers [a minority of bespoke  makers, and a majority of mass producers] to whom sound is merely a byproduct of visual aesthetics) will, IMHO, depend on the auditory acuity, personal musical tastes, and acoustic prejudices/preconceptions of individual makers.  I feel that more than just a few carve out a violin that "sounds good" to themselves, and hope that a buyer agrees.  I would suggest " 'twas ever thus".  [Escapes through the dumbwaiter.]  :)

The amazing thing to me is that they can 'carve out a violin' that hits a certain sound, or other qualities. I have seen many videos and read many articles on Sam Zygmuntowicz making violins based on the properties a violinist wants (and I would guess many many of the makers on here do, too, I just have not seen anything much on them in that regard). I have no idea how that is possible beyond a first approximation, but perhaps it is more straightforward than my primitive understanding can grasp.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
27 minutes ago, caerolle said:

The amazing thing to me is that they can 'carve out a violin' that hits a certain sound, or other qualities.

I have never managed to produce an exact sound copy, and I highly doubt that any other maker has managed to do so either, regardless of claims or marketing hype to the contrary.

Give a really good player any two violins, and he or she will perceive differences.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 minutes ago, caerolle said:

The amazing thing to me is that they can 'carve out a violin' that hits a certain sound, or other qualities. I have seen many videos and read many articles on Sam Zygmuntowicz making violins based on the properties a violinist wants (and I would guess many many of the makers on here do, too, I just have not seen anything much on them in that regard). I have no idea how that is possible beyond a first approximation, but perhaps it is more straightforward than my primitive understanding can grasp.

How it's done (or at least attempted) can be found here and around the Internet.  Same goes for much of the "black arts" involved in carving superlative bows.  That new violins and bows from respected makers, which rival the surviving classics in performance, cost as much as a respectable acreage with improvements, attests to the rarity of success and the difficulty involved.  IMHO, most people don't push the craft that far, and a survey of threads here will show that the folks who do succeed disagree on why they did, as well as on what constitutes success.

It's still an art rather than a science, and will probably remain so until someone grows perfect wood in a bottle.  Then they'll all argue about what "perfect" is. :lol:  Sometime after that, someone will devise time travel, go back and investigate Stradivarius, and catch another time traveler selling him Martian mass-produced superviolins from the 35th. Century.  I'm sure we'll never be without controversy on MN. ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

I have never managed to produce an exact sound copy, and I highly doubt that any other maker has managed to do so either, regardless of claims or marketing hype to the contrary.

Give a really good player any two violins, and he or she will perceive differences.

I'm sorry, I didn't mean an exact sound copy, though that may a claim that is made of which I am unaware. I meant to make a violin with the kind of sound and perhaps playing qualities that suited the violinist. Thought this may be essentially the same thing as what you said?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

How it's done (or at least attempted) can be found here and around the Internet.  Same goes for much of the "black arts" involved in carving superlative bows.  That new violins and bows from respected makers, which rival the surviving classics in performance, cost as much as a respectable acreage with improvements, attests to the rarity of success and the difficulty involved.  IMHO, most people don't push the craft that far, and a survey of threads here will show that the folks who do succeed disagree on why they did, as well as on what constitutes success.

It's still an art rather than a science, and will probably remain so until someone grows perfect wood in a bottle.  Then they'll all argue about what "perfect" is. :lol:  Sometime after that, someone will devise time travel, go back and investigate Stradivarius, and catch another time traveler selling him Martian mass-produced superviolins from the 35th. Century.  I'm sure we'll never be without controversy on MN. ;)

"catch another time traveler selling him Martian mass-produced superviolins from the 35th"

Lol, but I am guessing there are dating methods that preclude that. :) 

"we'll never be without controversy on MN"

I try not to say anything, as I really don't have much right to even be on this site, but personally I could use far less 'local color.' Sort of like another violin site I visit, far more focused on playing than on the equipment end. I quite enjoy the site, but there is one person there who spoils any thread he is in for me, and really gives me a bad attitude toward the whole site. Very rigid, combative, and aggressive. It's a shame, but that is how internet forums go, especially with a dose of high ego and competitiveness thrown in. (sorry for the OT pouting)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
48 minutes ago, caerolle said:

I'm sorry, I didn't mean an exact sound copy, though that may a claim that is made of which I am unaware. I meant to make a violin with the kind of sound and perhaps playing qualities that suited the violinist. Thought this may be essentially the same thing as what you said?

No apology needed whatsoever. I fully realized that you and I might be looking at things from different perspectives.

I no longer get highly invested in targeting specific sounds, but instead shoot for a sound that most high-level classical players would like. That works out for the most part, and should it not, and the instrument doesn't meet a client's expectations, I will quickly and happily return the client's money. Last time I recall this happening was about ten year ago, though I have much more frequently refunded deposits to those who got tired of waiting, or found something else they liked in the interim.

I can't do much about the wait time, but certainly understand those who don't want to put up with it, or don't want to get stuck with an instrument they commissioned and end up disappointed with, so I try to shoulder as much of the risk as I know how to do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 minutes ago, caerolle said:

"catch another time traveler selling him Martian mass-produced superviolins from the 35th"

Lol, but I am guessing there are dating methods that preclude that. :) 

"we'll never be without controversy on MN"

I try not to say anything, as I really don't have much right to even be on this site, but personally I could use far less 'local color.' Sort of like another violin site I visit, far more focused on playing than on the equipment end. I quite enjoy the site, but there is one person there who spoils any thread he is in for me, and really gives me a bad attitude toward the whole site. Very rigid, combative, and aggressive. It's a shame, but that is how internet forums go, especially with a dose of high ego and competitiveness thrown in. (sorry for the OT pouting)

IMHO, anyone interested in luthiery has a right to be on this site, unless, of course, they utterly disregard the rather loose and flexible rules of decorum here (which is why the individual you mention is There instead of Here).  By "controversy", I meant scholarly disagreement rather than acrimony.

And, no, no dating method would catch an object moved from one point to another in the time stream by going outside of the time stream.  What those hypothetical future MNetters would probably be arguing about is whether or not proved contamination of one worldline applies to all the lines in a sheaf, etc.  Then they'd go back to differing over the results of the latest blind test of new violins versus Burgess's, Hargraves, Soras and Zygs, etc. (note the alphabetical order).  :lol:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
29 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

No apology needed whatsoever. I fully realized that you and I might be looking at things from different perspectives.

I no longer get highly invested in targeting specific sounds, but instead shoot for a sound that most high-level classical players would like. That works out for the most part, and should it not, and the instrument doesn't meet a client's expectations, I will quickly and happily return the client's money. Last time I recall this happening was about ten year ago, though I have much more frequently refunded deposits to those who got tired of waiting, or found something else they liked in the interim.

I can't do much about the wait time, but certainly understand those who don't want to put up with it, or don't want to get stuck with an instrument they commissioned and end up disappointed with, so I try to shoulder as much of the risk as I know how to do.

:)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
24 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

IMHO, anyone interested in luthiery has a right to be on this site, unless, of course, they utterly disregard the rather loose and flexible rules of decorum here (which is why the individual you mention is There instead of Here).  By "controversy", I meant scholarly disagreement rather than acrimony.

And, no, no dating method would catch an object moved from one point to another in the time stream by going outside of the time stream.  What those hypothetical future MNetters would probably be arguing about is whether or not proved contamination of one worldline applies to all the lines in a sheaf, etc.  Then they'd go back to differing over the results of the latest blind test of new violins versus Burgess's, Hargraves, Soras and Zygs, etc. (note the alphabetical order).  :lol:

:huh: OMG, there are Trekkies here????? (aren't they the ones who argue over alternate timelines and the implications? I guess I can't talk, I had some friends amazed at my something-or-another when I talked about how it bothered me in The Matrix when they killed agents, because innocent people living in pods who had been taken over by the agents had died) I mean, cranky old luthiers are one thing, but TREKKIES?????? ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, caerolle said:

:huh: OMG, there are Trekkies here????? (aren't they the ones who argue over alternate timelines and the implications? I guess I can't talk, I had some friends amazed at my something-or-another when I talked about how it bothered me in The Matrix when they killed agents, because innocent people living in pods who had been taken over by the agents had died) I mean, cranky old luthiers are one thing, but TREKKIES?????? ;)

Actually, what I said is based on conventional multiverse theories, but, yes we have science-fiction fans here (of which Trekkers are a subset).   Science-fiction fans being the most intelligent life on the planet, of course you find us here. :ph34r::lol:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

Actually, what I said is based on conventional multiverse theories, but, yes we have science-fiction fans here (of which Trekkers are a subset).   Science-fiction fans being the most intelligent life on the planet, of course you find us here. :ph34r::lol:

Oh, real science, not sci-fi! I am impressed! :)

I have read a little sci-fi myself, but am a bit more into fantasy, when it comes to things along those lines (my fave is a manga series named 'Claymore'). Hopefully that is not a bad thing to sci-fi people. :) 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am torn between wanting to be a Vulcan and being a dragonrider on Berk.. .

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Again just opinion:

I feel that claims of 'targeting sound' or even playing characteristics are much more marketing than reality.     Yes, you can making heavier or lighter, or more or less stiff, and you can tailor many features with a hope of producing a particular character.  But I believe there will always be a significant degree of uncontrollable variance in actual results.

But you can focus on making well, and in was that consistently give good results, just not completely predictable results 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.