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Thread: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

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    Site founder Scott Tichenor's Avatar
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    Default Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Exact title which is too long to post is: Comprehensive Study Finds Soloists Unable to Tell $Million+ Strads from Modern Violins, an interesting study just concluded in Europe.

    I have no opinion on the matter one way or the other. At the same time I believe comparing bowed violins from the 1700s to modern ones is not a virtually identical model to comparing pick-driven 1920s Gibson mandolins to modern mandolins which is what I expect to hear. I am sure there will be a lot of opinions on the matter though, and they'll be just that until someone in the mandolin world holds a similar study.

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Scott ....anyone who follows the Cafe threads regularly probably won't be too surprised by these findings . How many times have we read that members and long-time players here have given the nod to an extremely affordable asian made mandolin over the high-end mandolins in so many taste-tests . Not knocking ANYONE'S mandolin or any builder's product at all here....just saying that perhaps the violin world is experiencing the same 'renaissance' in building/manufacturing some fine ,fine product based on the evolution of skill , knowledge and technology that we mandolin players are already aware of .

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Probably now people will just start handing out free strads on street corners. I bet that happens.

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    I saw this when I got up this morning.

    I came away being impressed with how affordable even high end mandolins are compared to violins. I took my fiddle to a violin maker last week for repairs. His cheapest violin is $12,000. The ones he currently have for sale start a $20,000 and go up from there to big numbers. Looking at where he lives, he is having no trouble selling them. (He normally doesn't do repairs for mere mortals like myself, but I had the right introduction.)

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    It really takes a lot of experience to hear the differences and more to appreciate it.

    A golf professional will notice a single layer of thin tape left off under the grip. Eventually.

    Listen carefully here for fun - these instruments are night and day!
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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    <violates forum posting guidelines>
    Last edited by Scott Tichenor; Apr-07-2014 at 3:46pm. Reason: violates forum posting guidelines
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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    This is a truncated explanation of the process as reported on 'Live Science'. http://www.livescience.com/44651-new...l?cmpid=557178

    Even truncated it is fairly long, but worth the time (IMO). I've wondered about this since talking to a few professional solo fiddlers who happened to own Strads outright (there are a few out there but many are owned by foundations who loan them to performers). They mentioned that they felt there were a lot of great new fiddles out there but to them, it seemed as if the great old Italian fiddles 'seemed to handle like racing cars - the modern ones sounded great but didn't feel quite right, more like a very competent sedan'.

    I have no idea what this adds to the conversation but it seems that a lot of the conclusions made in the article were from the hands of the player. What it sounded like to the audience ... well, that would be something else entirely.
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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Yup Dolamon.

    There's something pretty cool about playing and listening to these old instruments, the very best of the best. I like them. I've played a few known ones.

    One problem with audiences is they don't hear very well.

    One problem with players is that they generally play one instrument all the time, and that limits their evaluation envelope somewhat. Takes a while to really go past shaking hands with an instrument. There was a fine Bosendorfer I used to play - took several sessions with it before I found that sweet spot. Then WOW.

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    There is a sweet spot on a piano? Not disputing you, but I would like to know more - I've never heard of this. Then again, I do not play piano...

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Perry View Post

    One problem with audiences is they don't hear very well.
    Implying what? They're deaf? Then the instrument doesn't matter. That the acoustics of halls renders the difference in instruments inaudible? Then the instrument doesn't matter. That the science of acoustics shows that as sound waves smear and diffract as they travel though space that tiny details become relatively impossible to single out? Then the instrument doesn't matter.

    I know this is all subjective, but there have been so many of these tests through the years that show that when the players are blindfolded or somehow otherwise kept from knowing the instrument that they themselves are playing and that statistically their results fall within the range of pure guesswork, it would seem that the instrument doesn't matter. The tests and their methodology are always subject to some degree of disagreement, for sure, but when so many tests keep coming to the same result, there is a statistical consistency here. The summation is pretty universal; the instrument doesn't matter. The player does.

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    The value of a Stradivarius -- or a Lloyd Loar Gibson F-5, or a pre-war Martin D-45, or a sunburst Les Paul -- on the market, is not solely dependent on the instrument being a gazillion times better sounding than a top-line instrument produced last year.

    Is a Picasso or a Rembrandt a gazillion times better executed than a contemporary artist's work? Is an original Chippendale table a gazillion times more serviceable than the one you get at Ikea? (Well, yes, but you get my point…)

    Rarity, pedigree, reputation, market consensus, history, endorsement by experts, identification with virtuosi, and a bunch of other factors enter into market valuation. Doesn't bother me that even an expert's ears don't tell the difference. If you offered each of the soloists a Stradivarius for his/her very own, would it be rejected in favor of a really good contemporary instrument? Hmmm…

    Of course, there's the Shmergel Devastator, but that's in a whole other realm. Or universe.
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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    The dominant factor that affects the judgment of value is the skill of the player in using the range of expression available from an instrument. This is a reason Strads hold up over time even if it is not obvious at first how good they are. A violin player needs at least a year to learn what a violin can do, and most of "opening up" is the player finding the way to great tone.

    So it is not surprising that a player who has not spent a year with a Strad does not find its sweet spots. But remember that Strad would not be famous now unless he was first famous then, and because players over the years had delivered great results. This test only proves that the depth of a good instrument is not obvious at first, and this applies to mandolins and even electric guitars; a good player finds how to get the best out of an instrument over time, after putting in the time..
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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Ironically (if that's the right word) many instruments from the 1700s have had multiple modifications done to them over the years, not always expertly or wisely (the 19th century had some notoriously sloppy restorers who cared little for authenticity or even making note of the changes they had made.) Necks from the Baroque period were not set at an angle, and many instruments of that period had necks reset to modern standards at some point. The bass bar and sound post are often replaced to conform to modern standards. Heck, even what we call an "A" note (440 Hz) was not standardized in Stradavari's time, so players and audiences did not even hear the same notes that we would. It's been suggested by several researchers that the scale may have been off by as much as a half-tone or more.

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Wright View Post
    So it is not surprising that a player who has not spent a year with a Strad does not find its sweet spots.
    I am sympathetic to this argument, since I do think it takes a decent amount of time to become familiar with an instrument, but I have a nagging feeling that Old Italian Violin true-believers will always keep moving the goalposts on this one. If somehow a study were devised in which Strads still couldn't be distinguished after a year, it would get bumped to two years, etc.

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    My view is that you can divide instruments up in to just a few groups:

    Basic, beginner level (usually not too good at all)
    Low-intermediate level (good value, decent instruments)
    High-intermediate level (the very best factory grade to pro-quality instruments)
    Individually built by top-class luthier level instruments

    I am deliberately excluding any factors weighted toward 'vintage' or 'investment' potential as (I agree 100% with Allen) this has absolute zero to do with acoustic performance. It is to do with $$$$ and 'prestige' in my opinion. Nothing more.

    When you have that last group, you have the finest instruments available. Probably including some of the finest ever built, by anyone. It will include some of the finest instruments from the past, too... but choosing which one is "best" is hugely subjective - irrespective of who made it, what it cost, or what it is "worth".

    I've had more experience over the years with vintage guitars than mandolins, on the whole, but for me, I can honestly say that some current creations are every bit the equal of the "golden oldies".

    I really do not buy into that "it takes a year" to figure out whether one instrument is better than another, or how to bring the best tone out of a particular example. We are talking instruments in the $10,000 to several million here and 99.999% of people who are in the market for, or who play things like that, are perfectly capable of "getting there" (or deciding about) an individual instrument fairly quickly. They don't need 12 months, 24 months or a full moon rising do do it.
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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Well,i did read the article & the blind testing seems to have been well supervised & carried out. So,that leaves the result - they couldn't tell the difference !. However,i'd like to have heard their opinions of the 'new' instruments if they'd been able to play them for an extended period of,say,6 months or more. Only then could they have explored the subtle nuances of tone that any particular Violin posesses. It would also be interesting to know what these new instruments will sound in 50 years time. Unfortunately,time travel isn't coming along any day soon !. We all know the modern mandolin makers who produce instruments that sound incredibly good right now. What are they going to sound like in 50 years time ?. Even some lower priced but very fine mandolins such as the Northfield brand,sound amazing. My personal feeling is that they'll either maintain their current qualities (at least),or more probably improve in some way as they age,
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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Quote Originally Posted by Ivan Kelsall View Post
    Unfortunately,time travel isn't coming along any day soon !.
    As soon as it is invented in the future, we will know it immediately in our time (unless this era is considered unattractive for time tourists)

    Until then, we'll have to wait until someone finds Sig. Stradivari's CNC carving machine.
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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlieshafer View Post
    Implying what? They're deaf? Then the instrument doesn't matter. That the acoustics of halls renders the difference in instruments inaudible? Then the instrument doesn't matter. That the science of acoustics shows that as sound waves smear and diffract as they travel though space that tiny details become relatively impossible to single out? Then the instrument doesn't matter.

    I know this is all subjective, but there have been so many of these tests through the years that show that when the players are blindfolded or somehow otherwise kept from knowing the instrument that they themselves are playing and that statistically their results fall within the range of pure guesswork, it would seem that the instrument doesn't matter. The tests and their methodology are always subject to some degree of disagreement, for sure, but when so many tests keep coming to the same result, there is a statistical consistency here. The summation is pretty universal; the instrument doesn't matter. The player does.
    No, there isn't. The players are playing instruments they haven't really learned over a substantial period. The players also primarily play one instrument, so they're not used to listening to and coaxing out what they can out of many instruments. Infinite tests with the same conditions will or should give the same results. Tests with different conditions may give different results. I'm not disagreeing with the results of the tests, I'm pointing out that the tests themselves are designed to produce results that won't necessarily give a thorough evaluation.

    Let's give a strad, a good one, and several other nice instruments to a soloist. For a couple of years. On tour, in studio, etc. Then see which one they prefer.

    Something that really struck me was that several people, including a couple of good musicians, couldn't hear much difference in the recording of Bach I linked to earlier, whereas a couple of others (including me) find the instruments are just night and day from each other.
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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Quote Originally Posted by OldSausage View Post
    Probably now people will just start handing out free strads on street corners. I bet that happens.
    Only when we start them off by handing out 1920s Gibsons on the street corner!!!!

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Some people are willing to pay for the priviledge of owning a valued, sought-after object which has a collectable price based on the market. The value isn't necessarily based on anything other than what people are willing to pay. This debate obviously relates to the Lloyd Loar mandolin phenomenon which many of the posters referred to. I have often thought these (and I've played some good examples) are way overvalued although they are fine instruments. From a players perspective there are many fine instruments that equal or surpass the Lloyd Loar (and probably the old Italians). On the otherhand, if you want the investment, value and the status, that's another thing. Personally, as a player, I prefer I fine sounding workhorse that I don't have to insure for millions of dallars. But then, no ones offering to lend me a Loar, or a Stradavarious.
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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    The players had to wear black-out glasses and they played in all positions. I'm impressed. I would have needed braille fret markers!

    Seriously, I do think there is some difference in the mind of the player. If playing what you subjectively feel is a great instrument makes you feel better, more confident or whatever, I think that will come through in your playing. It would have been interesting if they repeated the experiment with the players knowing what they were playing and only the judges being "blind."
    Last edited by John Flynn; Apr-08-2014 at 8:56am. Reason: Add comment

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flynn View Post
    The players had to wear black-out glasses and they played in all positions. I'm impressed. I would have needed braille fret markers!

    Seriously, I do think there is some difference in the mind of the player. If playing what you subjectively feel is a great instrument makes you feel better, more confident or whatever, I think that will come through in your playing. It would have been interesting if they repeated the experiment with the players knowing what they were playing and only the judges being "blind."
    But that would negate the value of the test. The whole point is that of course the performers might put more oomph! into their playing if they knew for sure they were playing a real strad, and then the judges would hear that. The idea was to remove all the clues, so they were as far as possible only testing the instruments and not the performers, precisely because we already know for sure that there is a huge placebo effect when playing an instrument you know to be illustrious - that doesn't really need to be tested.

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Quote Originally Posted by OldSausage View Post
    But that would negate the value of the test. The whole point is that of course the performers might put more oomph! into their playing if they knew for sure they were playing a real strad, and then the judges would hear that. The idea was to remove all the clues, so they were as far as possible only testing the instruments and not the performers, precisely because we already know for sure that there is a huge placebo effect when playing an instrument you know to be illustrious - that doesn't really need to be tested.
    Yeah, I get how blind testing works and I realize why they did it the way they did it. I'm not criticizing that. It makes a great point. However, I disagree with your point that the placebo effect does not need to be tested further and while I get your meaning, placebo is not the description I would use. I think it's more than that. In real life, violins don't play themselves and violinists don't play unfamiliar instruments in concert. So I do think it would be an interesting next test that would take this out of the realm of pure science and into applied science. It would be more like psychological or sociological testing.

    So in the next test you have the same players play all the instruments again, but now they know what each instrument is, but the listeners don't. How much do the scores change from the first test? How powerful is that psychological effect? How much subliminal "oomph" do they put in it? I think it would shed a lot of light on why science doesn't completely answer all the questions here. Just MHO.

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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    These "tests" have been going on for centuries. They always seem to end the same way: "See, those expensive instruments were just a hoax." Then we all go back to our hamburgers and the next auction reveals a record sale for a Strad or a Guarneri, etc.

    So it goes. There are way too many variables. Even the best player is a variable -- hey, even they are human, right? -- but when you have multiple players it complicates it all. And do all those violins have the same strings on them and are they all played with the same bows? The only constant I can see if that all the violinists wear the same style sunglasses. Or is that even so?

    BTW I did get nervous when that first player picked up a violin, put on his sunglasses and then walked thru a doorway. I was nervous that he would smash a violin against the doorframe. But that is just me!
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    Default Re: Study: Soloists Unable to Tell Strads from Modern Violins

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Perry View Post
    Listen carefully here for fun - these instruments are night and day!
    http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/lo...3/default.html
    Steve: I don't know why, but I can't get that video or audio to play. I even downloaded RealPlayer. Any suggestions?
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