Saturday, March 2, 2013

Popping the myth of the Stradivarius violin

Most violinists believe that instruments by Stradivari and Guarneri “del Gesu” are tonally superior to other violins—and to new violins in particular. ... Player's judgments about a Stradivari's sound may be biased by the violin's extraordinary monetary value and historical importance, but no studies designed to preclude such biasing factors have yet been published. We asked 21 experienced violinists to compare violins by Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu with high-quality new instruments. The resulting preferences were based on the violinists’ individual experiences of playing the instruments under double-blind conditions in a room with relatively dry acoustics. We found that (i) the most-preferred violin was new; (ii) the least-preferred was by Stradivari; (iii) there was scant correlation between an instrument's age and monetary value and its perceived quality; and (iv) most players seemed unable to tell whether their most-preferred instrument was new or old. These results present a striking challenge to conventional wisdom. Differences in taste among individual players, along with differences in playing qualities among individual instruments, appear more important than any general differences between new and old violins.
--Claudia Fritz et al., "Player preference among new and old violins," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences