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Fiddles - perceived quality

Richard Bridge 03 Jan 12 - 07:49 AM
Wolfhound person 03 Jan 12 - 08:58 AM
Keith A of Hertford 03 Jan 12 - 09:01 AM
fat B****rd 03 Jan 12 - 09:05 AM
GUEST,leeneia 03 Jan 12 - 09:36 AM
SteveMansfield 03 Jan 12 - 09:51 AM
Richard Bridge 03 Jan 12 - 09:54 AM
theleveller 03 Jan 12 - 09:58 AM
Musket 03 Jan 12 - 11:58 AM
Will Fly 03 Jan 12 - 12:01 PM
Richard Bridge 03 Jan 12 - 12:59 PM
Will Fly 03 Jan 12 - 02:05 PM
GUEST,Howard Jones 03 Jan 12 - 05:40 PM
Richard Bridge 03 Jan 12 - 06:44 PM
GUEST,Pauline L 03 Jan 12 - 08:39 PM
YorkshireYankee 03 Jan 12 - 08:46 PM
kendall 03 Jan 12 - 09:45 PM
Richard Bridge 04 Jan 12 - 09:10 AM
Richard Bridge 04 Jan 12 - 09:39 AM
GUEST,Phil B 04 Jan 12 - 09:59 AM
Richard Bridge 04 Jan 12 - 12:04 PM
ollaimh 04 Jan 12 - 12:19 PM
GUEST,beardedbruce 04 Jan 12 - 12:29 PM
Chris Partington 04 Jan 12 - 04:03 PM
GUEST,Pauline L 05 Jan 12 - 04:09 AM
GUEST 05 Jan 12 - 10:00 AM
GUEST,beardedbruce 05 Jan 12 - 10:00 AM
Musket 05 Jan 12 - 11:22 AM
GUEST,leeneia 05 Jan 12 - 12:45 PM
GUEST,leeneia 05 Jan 12 - 10:52 PM
Janie 05 Jan 12 - 11:30 PM
GUEST,beardedbruce 12 Jan 12 - 03:30 PM
JohnInKansas 13 Jan 12 - 03:11 AM
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Subject: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 07:49 AM

A recent experiment comparing two from the Strad school and another of similar value with three decent modern fiddles has turned up interesting results.

Listeners (all good musicians) could not tell them apart by sound (on several scores).

Players if unable to see the instrument properly (they were wearing welding goggles so could just about see the outline) could not tell them apart by sound and preferred to play the modern ones.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Wolfhound person
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 08:58 AM

Link?

I remember a Radio 4 programme a few years back now comparing Strad, Amati, and Guernari violins, and being very pleased with myself that I could hear tonal differences (I preferred Guernari to Strad. - not that I'm likely to get close to either)

Paws


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Keith A of Hertford
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 09:01 AM

They also scented them all so the natural smell could give no clue.
Someone should try it with guitars.
Are people wasting big money?


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: fat B****rd
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 09:05 AM

Unapologetical thread drift. See Tesco Guitars thread.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 09:36 AM

Several years ago I attended a concert where a Stradivarius and a Guarneri were played. I didn't sense anything particularly thrilling about them. I believe they are over-rated and, certainly, overpriced.

I think the quality of the composition and the talent of the player are the most important things in producing a good listening experience.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: SteveMansfield
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 09:51 AM

Here's a link to this story on The Guardian website


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 09:54 AM

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/jan/02/how-many-notes-violinist-stradivarius


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: theleveller
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 09:58 AM

"Someone should try it with guitars."

The reviews in Acoustic Magazine sometimes come up with surprising results. At Acoustic Avalon recently I played a couple of dozen guitars, including 8 different Lowdens, and was amazed at the very different tones. The Lowdens were all amazing and individual but I was less impressed with some very expensive American models. A couple that I really liked were a Patrick James Eggle parlour guitar all-mahogany model made from an old bank counter (a tad over £3K) and a fantastic Vintage Gordon Giltrap Signature model for around £350. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Musket
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 11:58 AM

We seem to be missing a trick here.

A Rolls Royce, if you test it as such, can get from your house to the supermarket and back. So can a 20 year old Lada. Both can carry the shopping, both can get your responsible adult in the passenger side. Both have four wheels, a paint job etc etc.

Likewise, my lads when they were children brought home paintings they had done at school, and we put them up pride of place in the kitchen. We also went to The Louvre to look at the paintings there when we were in Paris.

A stradivarius is of course a well made instrument, to decent tolerances, fine workmanship, well set purfling, decent finish. Of course it sounded ok. Over time, it sounded even better. of course, Nobody has living memory of it's performance in the first ten years, when the sound will have been changing.

So, what makes it a good violin? Especially if the judgement of the listeners, as subjective as it is, is taken at face value?

You have to think of the time it was made. The years 1500 to 1700 are the years the trees were growing as most 'Strads were made in circa 1690 - 1720. The spruce he used for the tops where the sound resonates and develops enjoyed fairly consistent weather over time and the rings were uniformally spaced and densely packed due to the mini ice age, to a far greater extent than spruce used since from most of the world. (I used this argument as part of my PhD in vibration, so have been known to rattle on about it from time to time. That's another reason I like my carbon fibre Rainsong guitar, consistency, other than the prat trying to play it.)

The upshot was consistency, and that gave him a good reputation, especially for newer instruments still to get to their best. The reputation grew, and then many of his instruments developed other provenance such as one owned by Napoleon, Byron etc, and the violins you can see and know that many of the great composers have heard that actual instrument play their music.

Judging art by utility isn't the most useful exercise? Oh, and lets be fair. My £200 instrument is a fiddle. Stradivarius made violins....


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Will Fly
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 12:01 PM

It's horses for courses, folks - and a lot depends on the jockey.

It's said that Henri Cartier-Bresson could have taken wonderful photographs with a Kodak Box Brownie - simply because he was a wonderful photographer. A good musician can make a cheap and average instrument sound better than it is, and a poor musician won't draw gold from a Strad or a Strat. Some of the most favoured (by drummers) drum sounds on record have been produced by cardboard boxes and packing cases!

All instruments - unless they come from a totally rigid assembly-line manufacture - will have differences. Every Lowden I've ever tried has been different from its neighbour - like Leveller's experience. Some guitarists hate Lowdens, others love them - and the same goes for Martins, Gibsons, and so on. So, "better" is a subjective term.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 12:59 PM

The tests did not show "better" or "worse" sound IIRC - merely no great difference in sound.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Will Fly
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 02:05 PM

Point taken, Richard - but I think there's probably an implied good/better comparison in the very fact of the tests being run in the first place. Why do them else?


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 05:40 PM

According to the Guardian report, "The three old instruments had a combined value of $10m, a hundred times that of the modern violins." Assuming the report is accurate (a big if, seeing that it's in the Grauniad) that makes the modern instruments worth around $30k each on average. At that price, you'd expect them to sound bloody good.

As Ian Mather has already pointed out, the value of a Strad derives from a lot more than just its sound.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 06:44 PM

It seems to me that the tests were to try to discover if there really were differences in sound - and it seems that statistically there were not.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: GUEST,Pauline L
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 08:39 PM

There have been many similar studies in the past, and they have all given similar results. Strads have personality and mystique. I have heard Strads played solo in concert several times, and I can say that each sounded beautiful and each had a distinctive personality. Many people prefer Guarnaris, made by Guarneri del Gesu, over Strads. Stradivarius and Guarneri were contemporaries.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 08:46 PM

There was an item about this today on BBC Radio 4's PM (news magazine programme). They even had a very good violinist play two different instruments so that listeners could try to detect a difference (52 minutes in) themselves. (Link should work until ~5 pm UK time on Tues 10th Jan.)


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: kendall
Date: 03 Jan 12 - 09:45 PM

I have a Nicholas Bertholini violin Circa 1920. According to the computer it is of medium quality but everyone who has played it comments on its sound.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 04 Jan 12 - 09:10 AM

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/01/02/1114999109


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 04 Jan 12 - 09:39 AM

The above is the official abstract. It appears to contradict Pauline L's assertion that previous results were similar.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: GUEST,Phil B
Date: 04 Jan 12 - 09:59 AM

I have six useable fiddles at the moment. The best two are my ancient and battered Stainer copy (Circa 1890) and a brand new 'top of the range' chinese fiddle (£1500) The Stainer copy is head and shoulders the best and you'd have to be deaf (or possibly deceased) not to know that. The chinese however is still excellent and currently in use whilst the other is having its 2,000,000 mile service. Of the other four, one is also a german fiddle which looks very similar to the main one but is simply not even in the stadium compared with the other. No amount of set-up alterations ever significantly improve it. My engineer also is able to tell the difference instantly. I've tried fooling him.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 04 Jan 12 - 12:04 PM

Now that IS interesting. Maybe you should contact the researcher. I think she was looking to expand the sample base.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: ollaimh
Date: 04 Jan 12 - 12:19 PM

i wasd at an auction at northwest folk life and there were a lot of good fiddles. however an older hopf with an unusual body shape and finish was by far the best sounding to my ear. few bid on it and it went cheap because it didn't look like a "fiddle".

the guy who bought it was a great player and made it sing for decades and was the happy man over all the fancier fiddle buyers.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: GUEST,beardedbruce
Date: 04 Jan 12 - 12:29 PM

http://www.zaretandsonsviolins.com/oldviolins_newviolins.html


""Old as opposed to new" comparisons have been going on for many years. The results are most often the same, with the modern instruments comparing very favorably if not better to the old ones. An example is the comparison which was organized at the Fourth American Cello Congress. An audience of around 135 cellists judged the sound of 12 cellos, six new and six old.

The new cellos were the work of contemporary cello makers. The old cellos represented quite an impressive selection: A Gagliano; two Goffrillers; a Montagnana; a Stradivari; and a Tecchler. To keep the comparison as free of prejudice as possible, the player was blindfolded, and a large screen was placed between the player and the audience. When the audience handed in their ballots, the top scoring cello was old; the second, third, fourth and fifth top scores were by newer cellos; sixth and seventh were old; 8th-new; 9th-old; 10th-new; 11th-and 12th-old. Although an old cello got the highest score, the famous old cellos got the two lowest scores. As a group, the modern cellos scored much higher than this collection of famous old cellos. The question is now, why do many string players still act surprised?"


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Chris Partington
Date: 04 Jan 12 - 04:03 PM

I think most of the string players polled, being professionals, have been trained to attain a certain 'modern' (post-1800!) concert hall sound, that will fully utilise the music written for them from the Romantic composers onwards.
As well as major modifications to the violin's construction, e.g. angle of neck and changes to the bass bar, strings and bridge, this requires using the Tourte model of bows, which work and sound in a completely different way to the older Baroque and transitional bows of the 18thC.
Because of these changes to the music, the instrument, and the requirements of larger orchestras and halls, the player will perceive a 'need' for a modern, clean, masculine sounding instrument, and when she hears that sound will identify it as desirable and therefore it must be the Strad, mustn't it? Usually wrong.
It would be more of a fair comparison to factor some of those variables into the tests.
Recordings of some of the greater players, playing older instruments, reveal that they are content with, and desire, a warmer, human sound from their instruments.
Once you stop looking for the 'perfect' 'clean' note, and start listening for the more intimate, over and under-toned 'feminine' quality of sound it becomes easier to pick out the older instruments. There are several similar blind comparisons if you Google for them, and I can spot the older sound usually within the first bar or two.
Maybe that's because I'm not classically trained yet play a bit of Baroque alongside my fiddling.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: GUEST,Pauline L
Date: 05 Jan 12 - 04:09 AM

Richard, I just read the abstract of the PNAS article you cited. The authors do say "no studies designed to preclude such biasing factors have yet been published." I know that I've read about many studies in which players and listeners are asked to distinguish between Strads and non-Strads. I suppose that the designs of the studies I've read about were different from the design of the current one.

There is a long, interesting discussion of the study on violinist.com, a website primarily for classical musicians.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: GUEST
Date: 05 Jan 12 - 10:00 AM

Here are some discussions of the test...


http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=325189&st=0

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=21648


http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=21663


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: GUEST,beardedbruce
Date: 05 Jan 12 - 10:00 AM

last was me...


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Musket
Date: 05 Jan 12 - 11:22 AM

I learnt the violin at school and the loan instrument was, I was informed, a very good one that had been donated. I used to know the name of it and people nodded in the same way as guitarist nod when you say you own a Martin, Fylde etc. (All I recall is that they were recognisable as having an extra twirl in the Ionic scroll on the headstock. Anybody help?)

I now have a very cheap no name that I bought about ten years ago for about £100.00.

To be fair, I reckon this one is physically easier to play, and to me sounds fine. Interestingly, and the reason I mention it on this thread.. My bow broke and I bought a new one. It doesn't sound quite as good if I have to be honest.

I wonder if the bow, strings or bridge even, were variables in the experiment?


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 05 Jan 12 - 12:45 PM

I doubt if we'll ever know, Ian.

To me, the experiment validates common sense. Common sense says that if a Strad costs 100 times as much as a good, new violin, then the Strad ought to sound 100 times better. It also ought to be a joy to play.

Obviously the super-expensive violins were super-superior, but they should have been.   

I draw two conclusions.

1. If you are a musician (or institution), don't be suckered into buying one of these instruments

2. If you are a music-lover, don't ignore a musician just because he doesn't have a prestige instrument.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 05 Jan 12 - 10:52 PM

oops   change that to:

Obviously the super-expensive violins were not super-superior, but they should have been.
==========
Does anyone know whatever happened to the Strad that a UCLA musician lost on the freeway in 1967? I couldn't find the end of the story.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: Janie
Date: 05 Jan 12 - 11:30 PM

NPR reported on this and in the program included recordings of two of the violins being played. You can listen at the following link.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/01/02/144482863/double-blind-violin-test-can-you-pick-the-strad

I listened to the report in the car and through my ancient car speakers. I picked the wrong violin of the two as the Strad. When I reflected, I realized I assumed the sound I liked the most must be the Strad, it being the more socially cherished instrument.


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: GUEST,beardedbruce
Date: 12 Jan 12 - 03:30 PM

http://www.economist.com/node/21542380


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Subject: RE: Fiddles - perceived quality
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 13 Jan 12 - 03:11 AM

There are a number of factors that have seemed to me to be of likely significance in discussions of this sort. To suggest a couple:

1. Since Strads, Guarneris, Amatis and such were all "hand built" it's quite likely that, with due credit to the skills of the makers, there probably was as much, or more, variation from one instrument to the next in the original products as we expect in the handmade products produced by good luthiers today. It must be expected that the "best" of the original times would be selected by the luthier for the best customers, and the ones that established some reputation would tend to be passed to better players as long as they survived. The ones the came out a little less marvelous likely would be handed downward in the food chain, to students or less prominent players where they are much less likely to have survived. (and most didn't)

A result of this reasoning is that we should expect that only the "selected" best examples would be likely to survive for the few to few hundred years, to be found today. Estimates of the number of Strads originally produced run between 600 to 800 instruments "built by the master" (with unkown assistance from his shop hands, of course). Quite a few remain, but not a really large percentage.

2. It is documented (claimed) that every Strad still in existence has been modified at least by resetting the neck angle for the change from the archaic bows to the Tourte, so at least in this respect there is no such thing as "an original Strad.1" The same is likely to be the case for Amatis and Guarneris. I'm not sure whether Stainer came enough later to have made some in the "new style" or whether all those also are survivors from the chop shop. If I weren't so lazy I could look it up, but you get the point.

3. As to cost (value?), a fairly general rule in manufacturing and invention and other similar businesses is that doubling the price doesn't double the performance. The rule, which varies some, but not a lot, is that a 10% improvement usually costs about twice as much, whether you talk about reliability (how many will break in x time), longevity (what percent will last x time), or any other sort of comparison.

Thus by paying twice as much you are more likely to perceive a 10% improvement in satisfaction, By paying 4 times as much, you might get about 21% improvement. At 32 x the price (2^5 = 32) you get perhaps about 60% better (1.1^5 = ~1.6). The rule only applies within "normal distribution," so at the extremes (for the rarest items) the increase in price must be expected to go up very much faster than the "quality," and faster even than predicted by this "rule of thumb formula."

1 There have been rumors that a single Strad with the original neck set may exist, but the "instrument" offered has been a pile of "unplayable pieces" for as long as its existence has been claimed, it's considered unrestorable, and the attribution is questionable (it likely is a copy).

John


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