Science News

Old masters no better than modern violin

Fri, 11th Apr 2014

Chris Smith

A "blind" test comparing six of the most prized violins in the world, including 5 made by Stradivari, with six modern-made instruments failed to show any sonic superiority among Violinthe celebrated instruments.

Writing in PNAS, Claudia Fritz, from CNRS in Paris, asked ten renowned soloists to try out the panel of instruments while blindfolded, then pick which one they would like to play for a hypothetical music tour.

Critically, the soloists played the instruments in a concert hall to ensure that the full sonic potential of the instruments could be experienced in the setting in which they were designed to be played.

Six of the ten soloists chose a new instrument. Moreover, none could discriminate the prize Stradivari instruments from the modern counterparts, adding further weight to the argument that, just as people judge higher priced wines to taste better, the price tag and the reputation is what makes the Stradivarius instruments so attractive, rather than any sonic characteristic...


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What did violins and cellos look like before the mid 1600's and Antonio Stradivari?

As I understand it, most modern violins and cellos are essentially Stradivarius clones, so it would stand to reason that there would be little difference between them and the original Stradivarius instruments.  CliffordK, Fri, 11th Apr 2014

Good point! I shall put that to Joseph Curtin, the co-author, when I speak with him tomorrow! chris, Sat, 12th Apr 2014

I was under the impression that the mellow sound of the Strad was due to the close grain of the wood used. This came as a result of using timber from trees which had grown during a prolonged colder period. Don_1, Sat, 12th Apr 2014

I did find a note on the history of the violin.  Apparently the first violins were invented in the early 1500's, a little over a century before Antonio Stradivari started making them. 

The violins from the mid 1500's have a striking resemblance to the modern instruments, for example this Amati from about 1558. .

Apparently there have been a number of changes in the violins since the 1600's including lengthening the neck by about 1cm and lengthening and tilting the fingerboards. 

The question then would be whether the Stradivarius violins have also been modified to modern specifications.

Nonetheless, the comparison wasn't made between an elite Stradivarius violin and a dime store violin, but rather between similar top of the class instruments. CliffordK, Sat, 12th Apr 2014

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