View Full Version : Vintage for the masses?
What percentage of people attending an average acoustic performance by say, Chris Thiele or Tony Rice or David Grisman can really differentiate and appreciate the tonal difference of a Loar or pre-war Martin over a more mundane instrument? The players at that level certainly can but does the average concert goer know the difference or care?
Other than repertoire and stage presence, I'd reckon that the average concert attendee couldn't articulate very many of the specific characteristics of a given performance that made him or her like it or not. That does not mean that the details--tone, intonation, rhythmic detail, etc.--don't contribute to a listener's satisfaction or frustration with a given performance. Those details do add up, and any moderately savvy listener will be aware when a particular instrument sounds great, even if they are oblivious to the specifics of maker, model, and vintage.
The performing musician's job is to deliver to the audience the best-possible rendition of the music, and most--not all--players believe that a great instrument makes that easier to do. As we've discussed ad nauseum, a great performer with a good sound system will bring out the best in any instrument, and a weak performer or lousy sound system can negate whatever mojo even the best instrument might have to offer.
While I'm certain that most audience members neither know nor care about the pedigree of Thiele, Rice, or Grisman's axes, they do know that they listening to great-sounding instruments when those guys play.
You could easily ask the same question of Stradivari violins played by the classical crowd. The satisfaction of the player translates to a higher level of music for the listener regardless of whether the listener knows it is a seriously vintage/expensive instrument or not.
I would include Stadivari in the question. A concert violinist does two back to back shows, one with the Strad and the next with a fine violin but one that costs say 25% of the Strad's value. If the maker of the violins was not announced, how many attendees or even critics would know or appreciate the difference?
I doubt many would hear the difference. Give Grisman my Eastman (or your whatever) and he would still sound like pretty much like Grisman. Others may hear a difference, given the sound system is good, the hall is good, and the audience is quiet...
However, If Grisman's not using his main instrument (or two) he may not play to his full potential without knowing the nuances available (or unavailable) with what he has in hand. I believe part of a great performance comes mentally from the musician having his or her "tools" right for the job at hand.
The Tone Poets CD where everyone played the same Loar or Martin, all the tracks sounded pretty different to me.
Way back in the 80s the Dawg and the entire group were sporting new Kentucky mandolins,mandolas, etc. Sounded the same to me however this was before he got "crusher" and I've not seen a Kentucky in his hands since.
The sound system makes a huge difference - I've seen Grisman a number of times and his sound has ranged from exquisite (E-Town taping at the Boulder Theater w/Tony Rice, for example) to nothing special (at certain outdoor venues - no reflection on the player, performance or instrument of course). #Whether or not the "average" audience member notices - well, audiences vary too, from those there to be quiet and listen carefully, to those who want to hoot and talk through the entire show and take pictures with their cell phones, who have to be told from the stage that, despite their wishes, the band can't just "turn it up" when playing miked acoustic instruments.
Actually, I just finished a great book, "The Violin Maker" by John Marchese, that mentions a few experiments in the "Strad/factory fiddle" blind test vein. #Bottom line, the audience (even a knowledgeable one)can't tell, the musicians sometimes can't tell, and yet certain violinists will gladly shell out a couple mil or more rather than play a contemporary instrument because knowing they're playing a strad or guarneri makes them feel better. #Sort of like the world's most expensive security blanket.
As a rider to this point in question. How many people watching Dave Grisman,John Reischman or any of the top players,without knowing specifically what make of Mandolin they were playing,would automatically assume that it was one of the mega-buck makes ?.
I suspect that most of us would & we'd be quite happy to listen along appreciating the 'superior'tone of said Mandolin,even if they were playing a budget make of instrument. Self deception can be very deceiving,
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I think it's more player than instrument with the exception that better equipment makes the job easier. There is a mandolin orchestra here in town which is priveliged to have several fine instruments in it as well as some fine musicians. However, there is a certain L&H mandolin which seems to "Carry" well into the ear when I am in the audience. Player? Maybe. Instrument? Same maybe, Combination of the two? Probably.
A fine instrument inspires, the small differences in tone inspire you to play different notes that would seem mundane or boring on a less responsive instrument. I Know my Derrington MM has a certian pop and bark when i play certian notes and chords that none of the other mandolins I owned could. It may be subtle but it changes the way a play to achive the sound i want. i am sure that is why high end players seek out seek out certian highend instrument to obtain those difference.
In the end, the instrument is just a tool, the tool the musician uses to make his or her music. I got to see some of Rembrant's paintings, up very close, recently at an art museum. His brush strokes were amazing, but not being a painter, I don't care what kind of brushes he used. I'm just glad he cared.
Charles,you're right on the money there !. Good instruments do inspire one to try their best to be 'worthy' of them. I've had 2 inspirational moments like that,when i got my first 'pro.' Banjo,my Stelling,& more recently when i got my Weber 'Fern' Mandolin. Never before had i produced the tones & sounds that i hear the professional players make & i never made progress so fast in my life,
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