Is The Reputed Hifg Quality of Stradivari Viulins a Myth?


I remember the same special, and was quite disapointed that they never gave a comparison of the sound of a Stradivarius versus a good, but lesser violin.

This little turn-of-phrase is bringing a smile to my face.

“Is The Reputed Hifg Quality of Stradivari Viulins a Myth?”

And on a related note, is it a myth that some people manage to type slowly enough to get words like ‘high’ and ‘violins’ right?

“Breathe” is perhaps a stretch (Aldebaran’s English suggests it’s not his primary language), but “vibrate” is right on the money. And he didn’t say the instrument dies, but rather “its unique sound dies,” meaning the tone quality deteriorates. This is a fairly well-known phenomenon with instruments of this type. It has to do with the wood, particularly of the top, vibrating, and perhaps with the varnish flexing as well. For example, with high-quality spruce-top guitars, a new instrument generally does not sound as good as it will after some years of playing. The resonance of the wood undergoes subtle changes as it “ages” ( = gets played, not just sits around). It gets more responsive as it’s used, eventually reaching a point where it’s fully broken in. Continuous use maintains that responsiveness. Think of it as a stiffness that gets worked out with exercise, but which can recur if exercise ceases.

It’s not just the East Coast.
LA Phil’s stolen Stradivarius cello almost ended up as CD holder

Musical acoustics is about the only subject I would dare to call myself an “expert” on, so For What It’s Worth:

I participated in research which tried to find any change in a spruce plate after continuous excitation. There was zero.

Quite possibly: a musical wooden plate requires a high stiffnes to mass ratio and even grain, which is acheived by slow, even growth. The best plates are from trees at the highest altitudes on mountains. (Some pieces of wood sell for hundreds of dollars!)

Again, absolutely no effect experimentally.

Here lies the rub. Are the violins made now by physicists such as Carleen Hutchins as good as the classical Genoese makers? From various experiments, they are acoustically extremely similar (although the aging process might affect the tone via damping mechanisms in the wood). The old violins are primarily vastly more expensive because they are antiques.

Well, I could first establish that you could actually tell the difference in a repeated single-tone blindfold test. You would have to have a very keen ear, since only professional musicians and violin-makers could do so in my test. Have you?

Like I say, this sounds rather like anthropomorhism to me.

Reverberative qualities have no bearing on excitation properties. Any varnish simply had no effect in our experiments.

All myths, experimentally speaking. There may be some effect from aging, but it is not apparent after a few years: it would have to be more like centuries.

An excellent article by Colin Gough, a very nice man who was actually my PhD external examiner.

The breadth of timbre of a violin cannot be identified by single sustained pitches.

Then go for a blind identification of a musical passage, instead of a single note. Or you could even define what you mean by ‘breadth of timbre’, indeed.

I already pointed out earlier that a double-blind test is impossible - the violinist will know which instrument they’re playing on. And the physical responses of the instruments will affect the way they play.

It’s not definable. But every musician knows what it means. Because it cannot be adequately described in words, does that mean that it does not exist? Because we cannot provide you with a method for you to test for it, does that mean we should ignore it?

SentientMeat did you ever play on a Guarnerius (or any other violin of that quality and age)?

I have one on which I play since I was a child. Hence I know every single possibility and tone quality of it.
As I said previously I had - until last year - one that was sold as an Amati. That this instrument was further examined and proven a copy (or a restaured one, like some say) is my own doing. Doesn’t change anything about its presumed age and certainly does not change its quality.
An other one from the Cremona builders I didn’t play on since quite a few years. I I don’t have him at home anymore either and not only because I don’t have much time to play. But because when staying honest it is not difficult to conlcude that such an instrument deserves much better then my skills and also deserves to “go public”, as I would call it. One day he shall of course go to my relative from mother’s side. But she is still making her first steps so I want to see first where that ends.

Having a personal experience with a few instruments from the type we talk about, it seems to me I can make the difference between “myth” and “reality”. Especially because I play the violin since I was 5 years old.
There is no other myth about such instruments then the myth of Capitalistic Investment thinking, bringing them largely out of reach of those people who should be the first in line to be able to buy them.
The reality behind the Capitalist Investment Myth is that they are simply fabulous. Also the Stradivarius I didn’t like all that much was more then fabulous enough to blow away the myth and show the reality.
Salaam. A

It may be that the experiments and tests used couldn’t measure differences, but thousands of guitar players will tell you that their ears could tell. Did you happen to check specific instruments when they were new and then those same instruments again after they had been played for several years?

From “As a solid wood soundboard is played over months, even years, it grows in beauty of tone and volume, i.e., it breaks in.”

From “A new guitar is just that: It’s new, and if sensitively constructed, will not sound the same after months or years of playing. Often that’s all to the good, a somewhat thin and stiff guitar opening up to be louder and more responsive.”

From “The solid wood construction make this a guitar that sounds good in the store and improves over time.”

From “Spruce-topped guitars can sound ‘tight’ at first and may take some time to ‘open up’. Normally a spruce-topped guitar needs to be played-in for a period of time (months, even years) before it fully opens up. Cedar on the other hand has a shorter break-in period.”

From “A solid wood acoustic guitar sounds better over the years as you play it and the wood breaks in. The wood fibers actually loosen up and the wood vibrates easier…”

From “Fine instruments must be played. This is true for violins, banjos, guitars–all instruments. There are groups who tour with the Stradivarius violins that are in several museums, just to make sure they maintain their ability to vibrate properly.”

I suppose I should add at some point that I’m sickeningly jealoust of Aldebaran!

English is not even among my languages :slight_smile:
What I meant with “breath” is that you can’t lock such an instrument up, no matter how good the conditions of the place are.
People who do such thing are not worth having them and are busy to kill what they see as a brilliant idea for investing money. (To begin with, buying such an instrument should never be an investment, only a passion.)

Salaam. A


Maybe… And probably you are a far better instrumentalist then I am too…
But maybe you would be better to become jealous of the one who has my other violin and of my relative who abducted the Amati.
I for one am really “jealous” with them ecause they made the profession of what I always wanted to be, but could not do.

Salaam. A

And you expect you’d have been able to hear the difference after the sound had been through the microphone, numerous signal processing devices, and finally the little speakers on your television? Possible, with high quality components all around, but for the vast majority of a viewing audience, the violins would sound pretty much the same, which is likely why Nova didn’t bother trying to contrast them.

Aldebaran - Trust me, you wouldn’t want to play some of the stuff I play on your Guanarius - hey, I wouldn’t want to do that stuff to a good fiddle :wink:

Anyway, I’m jealous of all of you with the nice instruments, and also those with the careers…dammit, this ain’t good… :slight_smile:

How do you see this as affecting the outcome? Are you suggesting that the violinists will consistently play in a way that will make the celebrated old violin sound worse? If the end result of the experiment is (as Shagnasty suggests) that the celebrated old instruments sound no better than modern equivalents as played, in what way is the former better?

I hear similar things from supporters from the paranormal all the time. But for what it is worth, your first two sentences contradict each other, the answer to your third sentence may well be “yes” and I’m as yet far from certain that there is no method to test. Though the results of such testing may well be sufficiently uncomfortable to those with certain a priori beliefs as to make them keen to doubt.

GaryT there are any number of situations in which subjective experience as influenced by common myth appears to give results that are illusory. No amount of that sort of anecdote is very convincing.

The situation is exactly comparable to the debunking of the mythology surrounding hi fi speaker cables. There is at least one study (which I can’t find right now) which shows that people will report that big thick speaker cables sound better than zip cord, even when they are being tricked and the speakers are being run off zip cord the whole time.

Understood, and agreed. It would be more satisying if objective, measurable results could be obtained.

However, this isn’t very satisfying either: “I participated in research which tried to find any change in a spruce plate after continuous excitation. There was zero.” - SentientMeat.

A spruce plate? How thick? How long and wide? Under the same tension/compression it would be in an instrument? What type of “excitation?” For how long? Over a several-year period? What parameters were tested for change, and for exactly what types of change? How could one be sure that those parameters were relevant to the asserted phenomenon? How could one be sure that possibly relevant parameters were not overlooked? And ultimately, was the testing as a whole applicable to the real-life situation, i.e. actual music being played and heard by human ears?

There are any number of ways the testing could have been irrelevant to the problem. Without more information and explanation, no amount of research is convincing either.

Every violin gives a different feedback to the player, and so affects the way they play. A better violin gives more useful and responsive feedback. If the players get this more from the Strad, then the musical result will be better. (It’s about more than tone quality!)

OK, yes, I sounded like a kook. And I’m happy for some myths to be eliminated (albeit with the caveats mentioned by Gary T). But to reduce music to a series of steady tones for a blind test is to miss the point - there’s something ‘other’ about music, which has never been (and can never be) adequately described.