What is the worth of a Stradivarius instrument?

To me an audience member and to a musician, what would we both gain from a piece of music played on a Stradivarius instrument, violin or otherwise?

Would a musician play music as well on any instrument? Would I notice any difference listening? I’ve never read an account of how much better its supposed to sound/play, only that its a priceless instrument.

I don’t know that you will get a dsfinitive answer but this is a really good article about the Stradivarius.

They are very good quality, but quality alone does not explain their price. There is also their investment value. People want them because they are guaranteed to rise in value as the years pass.

It depends: is the owner willing to sell?


I personally cannot believe that with all the analysis methods and materials technologies we have today, that the tonal qualities of a Stradivarius cannot be matched or surpasses. The value is in the prestige, the rarity, the history, etc.

They once discussed this on 60 Minutes with Itzhak Perlman. He plays a Stradivarius and they gave him a cheap violin and asked him about the difference. (Itzhak, with his characteristic humor, said, “How do we know this will sound worse? It may sound better.” As he played, he kept commenting on how the sound really wasn’t quite right – it mattered to him, even if the microphone didn’t pick it up. It was harder for him to get the notes he wanted, though he was good enough to get them. But the more work just making the sound come out right, the more difficult other aspects of playing become.

There are other violins that have sounds as good (Amatis, for instance), but strads are considered among the best (whether they’re the best depends on the taste of the violinist). They are rare and well publicized (more than Amatis), which makes them a collector’s item and jacks up the price.

I have wondered about all the fuss about Stradivari violins. first; all the "evidence’ of how they sound so good seems to be largely anecdotal-I cannot find an actualt head-to-head test (of a Strad vs a modern violin) which proves or disproves the contention.
Second: all of the (surviving) Stradivari intruments are over 250 years old. wood decays, dries out, and oxidizes with time. I would imagine that many of these instruments are too fragile to be played.
Finally, i recall reading that one explanantion 9for the wonderful sound of these violins) is the varnish used. A scientific team did a chemical analysis of varnish scapings from a "Strad’. the result was, the varnish was chemically simsilar to modern varnish.
So i am skeptical about the claims made about these violins.

Past thread. Summary: many musicians consider them very highly, but in blindfold tests modern instruments are at the very least not far off, maybe similar, maybe even slightly better. The increased price is a function of its worth as an antique work of art with a history of musical innovation and famous fingers, and even then I think the prices are inflated (furniture from that period doesn’t go for similar prices, even if Napoleon or somebody owned it).

After all, if a top class musician has just paid >$1M for their Strad, how are they going to answer the question “is it really acoustically superior to a modern $50k instrument?” if they know that the slightest hesitation might knock a fortune of their investment?

Ahhh, yes, I remember that previous thread, happy days :wink:

Few, if any, Strads are ever actually purchased by top musicians for their own use.

Still, if you (like a talented young violinist of my acquaintance) have a sponsor willing to permit you to play a $1million Strad for a period of 5 years under condition X, Y, and Z; and playing said Strad increases your mystique and thus enhances your reputation-- are you going to join the band singing the praises of the power of the Strad, or are you going to claim a preference for a cheap violin you bought at a garage sale?

In other words, anything is possible, but I don’t think that the fact that the young violinist I refer to above plays a Strad owned by Mega Corporation, rather than a Strad owned by Young Violinist himself, adds a whole lot to this discussion-- at least as far as why people value Strads highly, rather than how does a talented musician get the chance to play a Strad.

That older thread (what I was able to get through during a quick mental break, anyway) was fascinating - thank you.

As another guitarist, I can say that there is similar mystique, if you can believe it, with solidbody electric guitars. I can go on about the “Strad of electrics” - the 1958-1960 Gibson Les Pauls - now selling for at least $200,000 and I am excited to say I have played one - and there is a noticeable difference vs. recent models of similar construction…

Yes, I’m sure you’re right - my point was that whoever bought the instrument for such an enormous amount will not want it’s supposed acoustical superiority to be wideley questioned lest that price drop.
I guess an experienced musician like yourself will be aware of the dodgy dealings involving the Chicago and New Jersey orchestras, GM.

No offense, but you could not be more incorrect. For quite a few years ( until very recently ), both of my brothers in law played Strads. Many of their contemporaries play either a Strad or a Guarnari.

Sure, there are some hotshots on the scene such as Sam Zygmuntowicz ( pronounced " Sigmantovich" ) whose instruments are regarded as brilliant jewels in the making ( time being the element one cannot force ). However, it is generally agreed that the Cremona violin makers of old created a body of work that has not be equalled since.

It is not the sizzle, it’s the steak. Sitting around during the holidays, the in-laws love to play Pick The Fiddle. When one of my brothers in law bought a Zygmuntowicz, they did a blind listen test. They had his Strad, my other brother in law’s Strad, the Zygmuntowicz, and two violins made by my wife’s grandfather in the 1940’s. ( He was a violinmaker by trade, not by hobby. ).

I am not a musician, and even I could immediately hear the difference in the instruments.

The Strad is the preferred instrument of those who have the pocketbook. One of the Strads in the family is considered a bastard instrument, because of repair work that was done. It’s worth is around 1.75 Mil. The other one, that is no longer in the family, was in remarkable shape. It was on long-term loan ( read: over 10 years ), and was returned finally. It was insured for over 3 Mil.

You are correct in believing that many Strads are purchased as investments by companies or Foundations

This article is a detailed discussion on what makes a Strad a Strad.

I did, at one point, ask to hold one and try to make a sound with it. It amused the hell out of the family. Clearly the artist component is crucial, even with a top-drawer instrument. :smiley: On the other hand, 20 years ago at my wedding, my (ex) sister-in-law from my side asked if she could see them both. She played violin in High School, and to her the chance to hold two Strads at once was too much to resist. They indulged her, of course. Then she played one for a while. Quite a treat to the trained ear, apparently. Which is why they are preferred by professional violinists…

Pushkin, all anecdotals aside, that last link I provided directly addresses your OP in some serious detail. Peruse it for answers. :slight_smile:


Sorry for the second post, but it’s pertinent. For those organizations who purchase Strads for investments, they do make an effort to have them played on. At least, some do.

There is real dismay in the classical string community when they find out that some vanilla corporation has just bought an instrument and tucked it away in a properly temperature and humdity controlled vault.

Why? Because the Strad and Guarnari fiddles sound the way they sound partially because they are “played in” so heavily, as the family calls it. ( I suspect this is what it is referred to by all string players.). Instruments age in either well or poorly. A Strad is well aged, and should be played. The sound does change. The Zygmuntowicz apparently has a different sound now than it did years ago when my brother in law purchased it. That is nothing compared to nearly 300 years of play.

I happen to agree, they are instruments first and works of art/investments second. They exist to be played on.

An excellent research job done in the lab, examining the wood and varnish compounds found in the Cremona group of violins.

Cartooniverse - read the past thread I linked to. The varnish is a red herring - it’s the stiffness to mass ratio of the plate which makes the difference to the high frequencies in the 2-4 kHz range (which I suspect might be from the soaking treatment and borax rather than the varnish). Also, playing the instrument doesn’t change the sound one bit - that new instrument you mentioned changed because it dried out. Controlled storage is the best way to preserve an old violin from an acoustical perspective (setting aside “shame it isn’t used” feelings).

I suggest a Pick the Fiddle contest with unfamiliar instruments, some multi-million Strads and some $50k modern instruments, would yield results far more like Joseph Nagyvary’s blind tests in which experts couldn’t tell Strads from modern copies.

Huh? Am I incorrect, or are you agreeing with me, or… :confused:

Much of the dismay is simply about any good instrument not being used for its purpose.

OK, fair enough, this is a very good point indeed.

So if the secret is indeed the varnish, we should see modern violins sounding SETTER than the 250±year old Stardivaris, Amtis, etc. This would seem to diminish the value of the geniune strds, would it not? kinda like what will happen when cheap, high-quality synthetic diamonds hit the mass market!

There’s another, newer, theory about the great violins of that period. There was a “little ice age”, a few years with so much volcanic ash in the air that many places had no summer, and the famine killed enormous numbers of people. The trees that survived it grew very little during those years, so the growth rings were closer together.

The proponents of this theory believe that the Strads and Amatis were made from this extremely dense, close-grained wood.

We’ll probably never know the exact answer, but it’s an interesting angle.

And now, a little tangent about counterfeit Strads. Perhaps a century later, a group of dishonest violin makers made a few thousand very (visually) good copies of real Strads. Violin experts can tell the difference, but the forgeries were good enough that they are now sorta valuable on their own as historical curiosities.

Gorilla Man, I was agreeing that many corporations buy them as investments. I was vehemently disagreeing with your statement that the high end pro’s don’t buy them to play on. That’s patently untrue.

SentientMeat, unfortunately I cannot empirically prove to you that you are wrong. No offense, but on what do you base your statement that a brand new instrument sounds better than a 300 year old one? I based my statements on those first-hand situations I cited already. I have stood in the room with Yo-Yo Ma ( who plays a 1733 Montagnana cello from Venice and the 1712 Davidoff Stradivari, which he now uses only for Baroque music. However, he also has two modern instruments: one that Moes & Moes made for him a couple of years ago, and one he has only had a few months, made by Mario Miralles, an Argentinean who lives outside Los Angeles. ), Gidon Kremer, and such and listened to these discussions. I’ve listened to years and years of discussion and debate on just this topic- with all of the participants moving in circles of the highest rarified musicians in the world.

I believe what I have been told over and over again. I am sorry that you have been told different, or believe different based on what you have read. When you are sitting in a room with two Strads, a very high-end but virtually brand-new fiddleand a few more average fiddles and three highly trained experts ( one with more than 30 years in the Pittsburgh Symphony who was trained at his father’s knee in violin repair and analysis ) and they hold forth opinions on why a fiddle sounds the way it does, well… I believe what I am hearing.

AskNott, I’ve heard about this theory. It makes sense- but what does it mean that that wood may have sat soaking in the river water? Wouldn’t the soaking ameliorate the hardness caused by the unusually dry weather and tight rings?

Not an answer to the OP, but this article claims that there is not a noticeable difference in the sound of an aged violin. The violin that the Strad was competing against was crafted weeks before the test by a man who has studied Strads for some time, so the construction may be as close to identical as possible, with the only difference being the age of the materials.