Secrets of the Stradivarius

What is the secret of the incomparable sound of history's greatest stringed instrument, the Stradivarius violin?

Filed under General Science

Skeptoid #328
September 18, 2012
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Stradivarius
Back plate of the
"Betts" Stradivarius, 1704
Photo: Library of Congress

She pushed the instrument into my hands, even as I held them up to ward it away. "No," I said, "Don't let that thing anywhere near me. I'll break it." But the violinist was insistent, and it was catch it or let it fall. I held it, and as it was the first violin I'd ever actually touched, I was amazed by its light weight and highly stressed rigidity. These thin sheets of wood, so cunningly curved and fitted and glued together, formed a box that seemed by all rights to be impossibly fragile, as if I could have crushed it with the slightest squeeze of my hand. But I couldn't have; the instrument was a living exercise in tension mechanics, its great strength coming from its highly stressed curves pushing back against the compression load from the tightly cranked strings. A perpetual battle in physics, with both sides deadlocked in dètente.

Mostly I remember looking down into the F hole and reading the original signature, elegantly inked by the hand of the luthier himself on the inside of the back plate, a sight that is etched in my memory as indelibly as it was on the instrument itself: Stradivari.

Antonio Stradivari was an Italian luthier — a maker of string instruments — who lived from 1644 to 1737. He's considered the greatest of all violin makers whose instruments are the finest in the world. He also built cellos, a few violas, and a very few guitars, harps, and mandolins. Surviving instruments are all named and generally played by the most prominent performers, such as violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Yo Yo Ma. They are fortunate to own their own instruments. Strads, as they're commonly called, can cost millions of dollars, and most are owned by foundations or wealthy patrons. The one I profaned with my grasp was used by a violinist with the Pacific Symphony and was on loan from a patron. Somewhere north of 1,000 Strads were ever made and about 650 survive, some 500 of which are violins. His so-called "golden age" when his best instruments were built is usually considered to be from around 1700-1720.

Stradivari (best known by the Latinized version of his name, Stradivarius) acquired his talent as an apprentice of Nicolaus Amati, one of a whole dynasty of luthiers whose instruments are also considered among the world's finest. But no violins, not those of the Amatis, or Da Salo, Guarneri, Bergonzi, or any other great names, have the reputation of Stradivarius. Even today, researchers subject the great instruments to CAT scans, chemical analyses, and supercomputer simulations to try and discover some elusive secret. What made his instruments so amazing? Was it the varnish? The glue? The design? The wood itself, or way the wood was cut, dried, or even treated? None who have so painstakingly replicated a Stradivarius using authentic materials and craftsmanship has yet recreated the unique tonal quality, that perfect sound attributable only to the instruments of the master himself. Or, at least, so pop culture tells us. Today Skeptoid is going to study not this question, but the assumption on which it is based: Is the sound of a Stradivarius truly up to its reputation?

A good sounding violin is not quite as subjective as, say, a good tasting wine. Taste is largely a matter of personal preference, and while the same goes for violins, violins do have certain quantitative aspects that are measurable. All sorts of tonal qualities over the frequency spectrum can be objectively assessed. And it's not entirely implausible for there to have been a certain period in history when violins were indeed "better" than could be reproduced today. An often-cited reason for this has to do with climate.

Toward the end of the Little Ice Age, roughly defined as around 1550-1850, came a period of extraordinarily low sunspot activity called the Maunder Minimum, between 1645 and 1715. Winters in Europe during this period were already bitterly cold, and whether the Maunder Minimum compounded that or not is a matter of some debate. Regardless, it coincides perfectly with the growth period for the wood that Antonio Stradivari was using in his instruments during his golden age; and the broader Little Ice Age covers virtually the entire span of all the great early luthiers of Italy. Trees grew more slowly in the cold, the rings were tighter, and the wood was more dense. If you tried to make a new violin now using the same type of wood as a Stradivarius, today's wood would be less dense and we'd have to expect different performance. In light of this theory, Francis Schwarze of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology announced in 2012 that he'd developed a fungal treatment for wood that would increase its stiffness and make it comparable to the Little Ice Age wood. In 2009 he gave an informal demonstration where a violinist played both a 1711 Strad and an instrument made from his fungus-treated wood, and he reported that both the audience and a panel of experts thought his violin was the Strad.

And this is the perfect place for us to step back and ask not what makes the Stradivarius so special, but rather to ask first if it actually is special. A lot of time and energy has been expended trying to learn the secrets of the Stradivarius; but in my estimation, not enough energy has been spent first trying to determine whether the difference actually does exist in the first place.

When you have instruments that cost millions of dollars, you don't often get an opportunity to test a bunch of them head-to-head. But that's just what one team of researchers managed to do in 2010 at the Eighth International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. The owners of six extraordinary violins were persuaded to part with them for the purposes of the largest and best controlled test the researchers were able to assemble. The six violins included three old Italian classics, a circa 1740 Guarneri and a pair of Strads from circa 1700 and 1715 (the exact dates were not given to keep the instruments' specific identities unknown). Their collective value was about $10,000,000. Three top-quality new violins were also included, one of which had been completed only a few days before the test, with a collective value of about $100,000.

Twenty one violinists were rounded up to participate in the study. They were drawn from the competition itself, from its judges, and from the Indianapolis Symphony. All were talented and experienced players whose own violins — none of which were included in the study — ranged in value from $1,800 to $10,000,000. The only thing the participants knew is that they would be playing "a number of fine violins, including at least one by Stradivari." The most unique feature of this particular study is that it was truly double blinded; neither the participants nor the researchers knew which violin was being played at any given time. To accomplish this, the entire test was administered in a dimly lit hotel suite, with everyone wearing modified welder's goggles that eliminated their ability to see clearly. Each violin was daubed with perfume on the chin rest to mask its unique aroma. Players used their own bows.

Everything was properly randomized, and even the researcher who handed each violin to each player didn't know which instrument it was. The musicians, who all participated one at a time, had a number of tasks. Each had to try out ten pairings of instruments, playing each for 1 minute; and for each pair, evaluate which one they preferred. In a second test, they were given equal access to all six instruments for 20 minutes, and asked to evaluate which was the best and the worst in five categories: tone colors, playability, response, projection, and which one they'd want to take home and keep for their own.

So what were the results? They were indeed surprising. In the head-to-head comparison, five of the violins were preferred about equally often. But the sixth violin was the lone standout in the data; almost nobody ever preferred it. It was clearly the least favorite, and its identity? It was the 1700 Stradivarius, and was the one with the most illustrious history. Every pairing of violins not involving the 1700 Strad was split 50/50; but whenever the 1700 Strad was in the mix it was rejected 80% of the time. Although none of the participants knew it, each pair had one old and one new violin. All three new violins held their own head-to-head against the old Italian classics.

In the second test, in which participants picked their favorite and least favorite of all six in five categories, the results were equally unexpected. Four of the violins scored about equally, but once again, the 1700 Strad was the clear loser. There was also a clear winner, and it was not an Italian classic. It was one of the new violins, which was selected as the favorite in every category more than any other instrument. Of the three old violins, the Guarneri outscored both Stradivarius. There was no detected bias for musicians to prefer instruments that were similar in age or make to their own.

$2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

Seventeen of the twenty one took a shot at guessing the make of their most preferred instrument: Was it old, or new? Seven said they couldn't tell at all, seven guessed wrong, and only three guessed right. In this study, only 14% of professional, expert violinists, who themselves owned instruments worth up to $10,000,000, were able to correctly guess whether the violin they liked best was brand new or 300 years old.

Now this was only one study, and so cannot be considered the final word. But its results were quite clear, and the few similar studies that have been done aren't of comparable quality. What it did show is that whatever special glue, special varnish, or special wood was used in the shop of Antonio Stradivari was probably no better than what any other top luthier has produced over the centuries.

So what is the secret of the Stradivarius? The secret is that there is no secret. It is a high-end instrument, comparable to other high-end makes. The claim that there is any inexplicable superiority is simply not supported by data. If such a difference does exist, it's one that the limited number of high-quality studies has not yet found. There's no doubt that Stradivarius is the biggest name in the history of stringed instruments, and no doubt that they will remain at the top of the auction block for the foreseeable future. Only a small part of their price lies in the quality and the sound of the instrument; what's really valuable is the reputation, historical importance, and prestige. That's something that no amount of CAT scans or chemical analysis can recreate.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianDunning.

Brian Dunning

© 2012 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Bachtler, B. "Treatment with Fungi Makes a Modern Violin Sound Like a Stradiavarius." Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine. 7 Sep. 2012, Number 23.

Burckle, L., Grissino-Mayer, H. "Stradivari, violins, tree rings, and the Maunder Minimum: A hypothesis." Dendrochronologia. 1 Jan. 2003, Volume 21: 41-45.

Fritza, C., Curtin, J., Poitevineaua, J., Morrel-Samuels, P., Taod, F. "Player preferences among new and old violins." Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. 17 Jan. 2012, Volume 109, Number 3: 760–763.

Gough, C. "Science and the Stradivarius." Physics World. 1 Apr. 2000, April 2000.

Lebrecht, N. "Exclusive: How I blind-tested old violins against new." Slipped Disc. ArtsJournal, 6 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Sep. 2012. <http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2012/01/exclusive-how-i-blind-tested-old-violins-against-new.html>

Niles, L. "What Really Happened in that Double-Blind Violin Sound Test." Violinist.com. Niles Online, 7 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Sep. 2012. <http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20121/13039/>

Schumacher, R., Woodhouse, J. "Computer modeling of violin playing." Contemporary Physics. 1 Jan. 1995, Volume 36, Number 2: 79-92.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Secrets of the Stradivarius." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 18 Sep 2012. Web. 25 Apr 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4328>

Discuss!

It's been claimed that the wood is the key to a great violin. And science is showing us how to create these types of wood by using fungi to partially digest the wood.
http://www.gizmag.com/stradivarias-fungus-violins/20804/

Albert, Seattle, WA, USA
September 18, 2012 7:31am

All the surviving Strads have been heavily rebuilt, of course - new necks, bridges, some of the interior parts as well, partly because these wear out, and partly to accomodate changes in playing technique in the 19th century. Incidentally, some observers in the late 17th and early 18th centuries thought that the Strads were too loud and coarse; they preferred Stainers and the like. When orchestras got bigger, these softer and less-shrill instruments were set aside and so survived more-or-less intact, unlike the Strads.

Stuart Frankel, New York
September 18, 2012 11:15am

LOVED this article. Artists, ironically, are some of the most single-minded individuals. I love that these particular artists had the chance to experience a study that hopefully opened their minds ... and will save them money in the future!

Susan, Irvine
September 18, 2012 11:19am

First thing I thought of after reading this was about the room acoustics. Studio monitors are renowned for sounding completely different in different rooms and since we're dealing with acoustic instruments, it would be a similar case. A quick look as the study showed they had noted: "We are aware that room acoustics may influence a player’s preference for one instrument or another. However, that is a separate question not covered in this study". I love science :D

Darren, Ireland
September 18, 2012 11:39am

Loved the episode Brian. I play bass with several symphonies and I've always enjoyed this subject. I once asked my luthier why the Strads are more popular and if they did indeed sound better. His opinion was essentially what this study concluded, that the Strads are comparable to other fine violins but not noticably better. He also noted a very wide gap in sound quality between the best and worst Strads. Some really do sound magical but thats to be found with any maker. Not every instrument is equal.His theory about the popularity of Strads is that due to his great age and prolificness he built a ton of instruments. This meant more instruments got into more people's hands in more places. In others words, name recognition.

I was lucky enough to see a visiting soloist demo several instruments during a master class. A Strad owned by the artist, a new violin built by my luthier friend, and a few others. First she played the Strad and then his violin. After she put it down she said thoughtfully "I think the G string might actually sound better than the Strad". The orchestra's concertmaster leaned over and whispered "Yeah, and the other 3 strings too." Obviously not evidence but a funny anecdote still.

Brandon T., Alabama
September 18, 2012 12:51pm

thanks Brian,
Seems marketing wins again!
cheers
Stu

Stu, Canberra, Australia
September 18, 2012 1:40pm

Goes back to the subjectivity of the mind, kind of reminds of the podcast about gold audio wires and hifi. I think if folks spend a fortune on something they expect it to sound better!! Like poor guitarists buying a £5,000 guitar and thinking that they will 'sound' better.

My first thought at the start of the podcast was that maybe the wood had changed tonally over the centuries - aged as it were - something that we couldn't duplicate or perhaps the surviving instruments today are the ones remaining after the inferior ones were destroyed by frustrated owners, but it seems, going by that study, that perhaps it is mostly in the mind.

Seems to me that for a certain 'sound' there must be a limitation of materials, shape and construction, and that if you are looking for that 'sound' you will follow, as close as possible, the construction of 'perfect' instruments. Go outside those limitations and your instrument will sound different and maybe perceived as worse.

Reminds me of the Queen guitarist Brian May, he and his dad built his guitar out of a 100 year old fireplace, bits of a motorcycle and other household stuff, he designed it to sustain, and with the AC30 it does that. The sound he created had many folks making copies over the years and Dr May played some copies and said some were close to his, more subjectivity? lol

The UK has an amazing busking violinist called Ed Alleyne-Johnson, he craved his instrument - an electric violin - with a kitchen knife apparently!!!

David Healey, Maidenhead, UK
September 18, 2012 2:28pm

Thanks for doing this episode. I've always suspected that something along these lines was true, but I've never known where to go to look for it. Look forward to reading the studies.

Sean, Seattle
September 18, 2012 4:13pm

Simple question about the test.

Were all the violins stringed the same?

EvilEyeMonster, Mount Dora, FL
September 18, 2012 5:23pm

I play acoustic guitar, and for folk and bluegrass musicians, the Pre-WWII Martin dreadnought is the Stradivari of guitars. For mandolins, it's the Gibson F5s made by Lloyd Loar in the 1920s. I wonder what we'd find if we did a similar test on these instruments. My suspicion is that we'd be similarly embarrassed like these fiddlers.

Ron Cooper, Ocala, FL
September 18, 2012 6:35pm

Evil Eye Monster,
Good question! I had just assumed that of course all the violins were stringed the same, but it turns out they weren't. The study says the people who loaned them the old violins stipulated that the violins "remain in the condition in which [they] received them (precluding any tonal adjustments or even changing the strings)."

Lucy, Claremore, OK
September 18, 2012 6:41pm

i now know that a violin maker is called a luthier. does that have anything to do with lute?

Jon, Auckland, NZ
September 18, 2012 6:50pm

Excellent episode, Brian. One for your highlight reel.

I grew up surrounded by classical music; one of the truisms I heard several times was that Strads were the fiddles everybody wanted to own, but Guaneris were what everyone wanted to play. Interesting that the results of the blinded test agree with that in part, at least.

Pieter B, Sherman Oaks CA
September 19, 2012 1:33am

Susan,

I don't think you can say that: "Artists are some of the most single-minded individuals."

That is simply is unfounded. As an artist/composer myself, I know about the instrument hype. I play piano and the same goes for Piano's as well. people praise a Steinway because of it's name and history. While in fact a Fazilio pianoforti built in 2011 clearly excels in sound quality. Many pianists know this, so I don't see how artists are misguided. I think the public is misguided. It's all part of show-business.

Sasha, Arnhem
September 19, 2012 1:48am

Well done, Brian, these kind of episodes are for the ages. You simply listen with open mouth - and remember the story about the whiskey congress where they made a blind tasting: several specialists couldn't figure out that out of the eight malts they were tasting three were actually brandys.

Eduard, Austria
September 19, 2012 1:01pm

I loved this episode! My very dear but now departed father was a gifted amateur violinist who made some of his own violins, one of which took second place at a national violin makers' convention years ago.

He was well versed in the lore of violin making and the legendary and supposedly never equaled excellence of Stradiveri's instruments. I have long held a residue of skepticism about that supposed unsurpassable quality of his instruments. I was somewhat pleased (though not terribly surprised) to see some credible justification for my skepticism.

Gunnar, Yuba City
September 19, 2012 4:17pm

Virtually all Strads and other early instruments have been altered to allow the use of modern strings. The legend of the strad may be from their era of gut strings and convex bows. Once modified they became just another violin, but the legend lives on

Peter Lindsay, Newcastle Aus
September 19, 2012 7:11pm

I saw an explanation by a physicist that noted that as soon as an instrument is built, it begins to deteriorate. So that new instruments are going to be as good or better than an old instrument.

Gene, Phi
September 19, 2012 7:44pm

I don't understand how someone can study what makes something perform better without first determining in what way it performs better.

Max, Boston, MA
September 19, 2012 8:21pm

That rendition of EB was great Brian. I hope some actually took notice of it.

Dr Syd,,,ex mud, Sin City, NSW, OZ
September 19, 2012 11:42pm

Brian, brilliant episode as usual.

However, this one time, I will have to contest the BLASPHEMY of what your conclusions are! Stradivarius not the pinnacle of violin making? This is utter heresy and calls for nothing short of the end of Western civilization itself! :)

Yours, in a huffing incensed rage,

Nat Harari. :)

P.S.

Now that you've insulted and mocked MY prophet, I shall have to go and burn down some buildings in another part of the world to prove my outrage! :D

Nathaniel Harari, Haifa, Israel
September 20, 2012 7:17am

Another home run. Every time Brian says "Stradivarius" here, you could replace it with "pre-WWII Martin guitar" and it would still be true. Sometimes the name seems to be more important than the functionality.

Really Brian, I thought you had exhausted the list of topics that you could address, but you're still coming up with interesting stuff. Thanks again.

Chris, Baltimore, MD
September 22, 2012 8:48am

Do the same study. Pick the greatest violin players around (Perlman etc...). Strads would have been preferred. Because it takes a genius to unveil the full potential of a Stradivarius.

Ailianos, Athens, Greece
September 23, 2012 6:31am

Nice! Special pleading and appeal to authority in the same sentence.

Brandon T., Alabama
September 23, 2012 12:27pm

Ailianos

Pick the greatest violinists and I wouldn't be surprised if they chose a Strad. People who can afford a high-class diamond will buy a high-class DIAMOND.

Not for reasons of fire, refractive index, dispersion, brilliance and the like--which have been long surpassed by various synthetic gemstones as far as their overall aesthetic impression would make to a reasonable judge--but because they are...diamonds.

danR, Vancouver/Canada
September 23, 2012 2:51pm

DanR, I think he meant with the same conditions as the test, where the only qualities evaluated would be playability and tone. If you don't know whether or not it's a Strad (or a diamond), you can't choose because of the name. Anyway, buyers of "high-class" diamonds generally choose them on the advice of an expert, not their own expertise.

Another point: the violin sounds much different to the audience than the player. Doing the study over with an audience that's also double blind and the results could be interesting.

Chris, Baltimore, MD
September 24, 2012 7:43am

Just a few notes:

- The Stradivarius Violin (of which there are actually many and varied - they really cannot be grouped together into one single range of sound) may reign supreme in the minds of popular culture, but musicians have been debating Stradivari's instuments vs. Guarneri Del Jesu for centuries. Stradivari simply has better PR in popular culture.

- By using Strad's and Guarneri's as "standards" of greatness, the classical music community has effectively established a set of parameters to which instruments must conform to attain the level of "greatness". It is a cycle in which violin makers pursue a goal of keeping the state of the instrument from advancing.

Gabriel, NYC, NY
September 24, 2012 7:09pm

@Brandon T., Alabama

"Nice! Special pleading and appeal to authority in the same sentence"

Well done, sir!

Government Goodies, Secret Government Lab
September 25, 2012 4:25am

You should really figure out the difference between 'quantitative' and 'qualitative'!

(Good read overall, though)

Caine, The City
September 26, 2012 12:04am

Caine, I think Brian knows the difference quite well. For instance, the tone of a violin may be subjective (qualitative) while the volume (projection) of the same instrument can indeed be measured quantitatively. And with audio spectrum analysis the exact tonal variations (distribution of frequencies and overtones, etc.) can also be measured. This does not, of course, tell you how "good" a violin sounds, but it can be quantitatively measured.

Chris, Baltimore, MD
September 26, 2012 9:08am

The other thing is that the surviving violins have been repaired and restrung over the centuries. Any given Stradivarius is a mixture of original and repair pieces.

(There is a 100% original Strad, which probably would not sound as good since it also has the original, no doubt well-stretched, strings.)

Brynhild, Macon
October 01, 2012 2:23pm

It's partly the power of a good trademark. Stradivarius rolls off the tongue like none of the other names.

andy, brisbane
October 05, 2012 5:23pm

Bite your tongue andy and it will roll off a lot quicker!

Violin Genius..oh yeah we see a lot and that rieux feller down in oz.. We also get home and away.

Wednesday night in antarctica, sports night in Aus and Play School in NZ precludes us from culture I am sorry.

Every night is sports night in Oz

Mud (Dr Syd), sin city, NSW, OZ
October 06, 2012 3:11am

nice website.
now, how do you cite this website.

natalie, irvine
October 08, 2012 6:06am

"There was also a clear winner, and it was not an Italian classic. It was one of the new violins, which was selected as the favorite in every category more than any other instrument. " ... and the winner is? Finish the story! Which one was the winner? What are the 3 new ones who stood head to head against the classic masters?

Tumbleweed_Biff, Columbus, Ohio
October 08, 2012 3:08pm

I'd love to know which new instruments they tested. Glanced through the original article and didn't see anything specific mentioned. But the supplemental information does list the specific performer instructions/questions, which is kind of interesting. Overall, good news for the violin community.

K, Los Angeles, CA
October 11, 2012 5:20pm

Makes me wonder if they have the reputation of sounding the best because the best players compete to have them.

I'm a guitarist myself, and the player skill >> instrument played. A mistake many guitarists make is buying the same guitar that their favorite player uses - thinking they'll sound similar. Sadly we find it's mostly all in the fingers.

Shane, Nashville
November 10, 2012 11:41pm

Part may also be being able to have a beautiful classic. For example: Sure, I could own a new sports car that could drive just as well and cost less, but a 1970 Oldsmobile 442 would be a dream car.

Andrew Pennock, Peoria, United States
November 14, 2012 11:53am

Triue, true.. I have many classics I would dream of driving but none compare to a modern technology car.

Sorry, I like the idea of not arriving at a destination being stuck to my clothes and a few bucks waste on brakes and transmission..let alone juice.

The stradivarius debate is different and lends to subjectivity. Brian covered that.

One of my pet peeves is how australian drivers are so poor that presenteeism is a compliment to them. Given that the cost for injurious accidents costs the community 400-500 bucks a year on cover insurnce over the top of vehicular insurance isnt astounding...its a daily observable phenom.

This skeptoid is about subjectivity. Does a vintage or antique instrument perform better in the ears of the nobody?

I cant tell.. looking lke a god doesnt mean you can hear or see like an expert...

Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
January 10, 2013 1:00am

I went to an instrument shop with the plan on spending something in the $800 range on an electric guitar. Obviously, we're not looking at a top name instrument at that price, but something of at least a decent build.

I pulled several instruments off the rack, plugged them in and played a few chords. The last instrument I picked was a semi-hollow telecaster knock-off which cost around $300, the cheapest instrument I'd tried that afternoon. I played two chords on it and immediately fell in love with it's tone.

Sometimes, it's just a matter of the relationship between the player and the instrument.

JV, Moncton NB Canada
February 06, 2013 11:50am

although the test is interesting, there is no doubt that a LISTENING test performed by concert goers may have yielded different results. I have been to many concerts over the years and in many cases some violins cut through better than others. that is to say that they can be heard distinctly in the "mix" of the other instruments in the venue. anecdotal, i know. is it the instrument, the performer or a combination of both? i usually force my way to meet the performers of the concerts that i attend. even in recordings of the various violins of the various makers have yielded similar impressions. the instruments that are the most prominent in the recording usually end up being an old italian or german one. as far as the weather being cold at the time when the instruments were made means very little. because the mini ice age as portrayed here was only a fraction of the years of the life of the tree and would most likely yield results in the SAPWOOD not the HEARTWOOD that the instruments are obviously made from. so the tightness of the "grain" of the heartwood in no way was affected by the climate that affected the sapwood. i wish that i had a time machine in which to go back to the day when a given old italian violin was crafted..to see the tree prior to being felled, the mineral rich waters that it may have been soaking in before going to the mill, the kiln method, the recipe for the varnish etc.

just a goof, usa
March 12, 2013 12:50am

Put a bug in any axe....they all sound the fecking same!

Lets face it, a violin just doesnt appoach any beer..

Sure.. you might have read about a batch.

There are a very few conditions where you can compare the best of the best in terms of imstruments AND sadly we dumb feckers just cant pick them.

Honestly, I can pick champagne from Oz but I actually prefer low end Riems.

Picking any high end product in violins is beyond me.

But knowing that a strad can even compete with currents is astounding.. Be that the real case and not the "smug case", Stradss must rule and the drummers who invented them are top \boyoh..

Drummers?? Well lets face it, this is skeptoid and frikken aliens, naturopaths and burning buddhists hold sway..

That and i need to write a drummer post every now and then...or my drummer leaves for a band of morons,,

My drummer has done more for me than ANY supermarket vitamin!

Mud,, at Camp Klogs, NSW
March 15, 2013 7:22am

it is easy. search for recordings of music where these instruments are used. then buy them, go home and listen. although it is much better to attend a live performance and eliminate the terrible electronics that most people own.

the car analogy is on the mark. however, give an average 16 year old girl a ferrari and expect her to maximize it's performance. or give a professional race car driver a 67 corvette. the professional race car driver would realize the limitations of the 67 corvette. the 16 year old girl would probably wreck the ferrari LOL. modern technology is astounding but for some reason can't seem to accurately explain how and when the pyramids of the world were constructed. are stradivari and amati and guarneri the ferraris of their day? they did not become the famous instruments of today because the name is cool or because they sounded worse than the others, think about that. there is something that time does to instruments that does not happen with a new instrument fresh out of the box. i attended a concert about 10 years ago at the university of washington where the performer used a modern "high end" bass then played a vintage german made bass and the whole audience reacted to the difference. they gasped when this guy started playing the older instrument. the name of the old german bass escapes me now. there was no need to store it in memory as there was no debate about which one sounded "better" it just was and any moron could hear it.

just a goof, usa
March 22, 2013 11:42am

What are two of the theories that people thought made the sound of Stradivari's violins so special?

Jade, Bahamas
April 02, 2013 12:03pm

Is it all perception based on our inherited beliefs that Strads are unique and the best.
Is the test absolutely the final answer. It would seem so but I have my doubts, probably based on the aforementioned perceptions. How would the tests hold up to the very top violinists playing them?.
Certainly a very interesting result.
There is one other anomaly I have never quite understood and that is why the so called "Messiah" violin that Strad made and is now on display in a British Museum, has never been played. What a sacrilage!!! or am I wrong here?

Robin, Johannesburg
June 11, 2013 10:52am

People born before the electronic age, chose a specific violin maker over others, and the rest of us who don't the difference just went along. Then a study is done, using people used to hearing electronically synthesized music and noise (even if they do play a wood instrument), and they prefer modern made violins. Maybe it isn't how special (or not) the violin. Maybe it is the change in our perception of what the perfect sound should be. Or that the previous generations didn't have as many to choose from.

LBZ, Biloxi MS
June 14, 2013 9:08am

To the ALL CAP USER lecturing on why wood matters. You made one mistake in your clearly biased hypotheticals and that is that maple uses the sapwood and not the heartwood for timber. So your impeccable expertise is tempered by your basic ignorance of the most simple facts about woods used in violins.

Sorry ;)

Acer Genus, Roma
July 17, 2013 4:46pm

" maple uses the sapwood and not the heartwood for timber";

Needs a bit of an explanation to relevance.

Magnanamous Dinoflagellate, sin city, Oz
July 17, 2013 11:12pm

Love is the difference. You touch a loved instrument and the music that is the response is the most sweet and magical that one can experience.

You get out what you put in.

Swampwitch, Gainesville Fl
July 24, 2013 9:50am

In fact, in Paris 2012, the double-blind test WAS repeated in a concert hall setting with top violinists for an audience - Absolutely scientifically approached, it compared violins in a piano/violin setting, orchestra/violin, etc.
The results? From the audience point of view as well as the violinists, it was impossible to determine old from new. Were their preferred? Yes. Were the preferences consistent? No.
It was quite an amazing thing to witness.

Stefan, Los Angeles, Ca.
July 24, 2013 5:57pm

Strads are revered for their projection to the back of any hall. Amatis esp,
are noted for a sweeter, more beautiful tone. Can't compare projection up close.
That said, I recall a blindfold test in
BBC music magazine where a group of
violinists, luthiers, conductors, etc. couldn't tell Strads from modern violins, so I'm not disagreeing with your premise.
Never heard a Strad up close. Have heard 2 Guarneris, which were very
impressive. But they were ( kindly)played for me by their owners and folks like that tend to be pretty fair musicians.
Also, don't forget the Heifetz effect.After a concert, a listener said ' your Strad sounded magnificent tonight" Heifetz held his violin case up to his ear fr a bit and the said:
" I don't hear anything."

Cheers, gw

Gordon, San Jose CA
July 28, 2013 7:54am

Is that a metrologist joke extended to other instruments?

Mud, sin city, Oz
August 06, 2013 11:44am

I used to know an old amateur violin maker who made very good violins. He would sometimes use wood that was cut from the same group of trees that Stradivarius is supposed to have used, including wood that had been cut at that time, but used for a different purpose. The wood was soaked for months in his own urine. His tools, such as frames, were copies of Strad's own. The back and belly of the violin were matched before assembly using a sound generator and sand patterns. The dimensions were based on the Golden Section ratios. At the end of his life he was still experimenting with the varnish - trying to dissolve mica to add to the mix. He also made his own glue

He considered the sound post positioning, angle of the strings, and the ratio between the legth of string above and below the bridge critical - he would adjust factory made violins, vastly improving their sound.

Professional violinists found some of his achievements almost unbelievable - but he had misses too. He was proud of the day when someone attributed his success to the will of God - As an atheist he quipped back that the credit, if any, was entirely his own, and he had no intention of sharing it.

The joke of it all was that he could not actually play a violin and was predominantly tone deaf. He loved annoying the professionals, calling them the violin mafia, a rebel of a most unusual kind, with a sometimes erratic gift, and a very disarming sense of humour, displayed by a twinkle in his old eyes

Phil, Sydney Australia
August 22, 2013 10:52pm

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