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Violin Shop Mythbusters: Are Old Violins Better than New?

A recent scientific study focused on the long-asked question: Are the old Italian violins superior to modern instruments? For years, violin makers have tried to narrow down what gives the 300-year-old Stradivarius that purported sound quality that seems unparalleled in modern violins. Could it be the wood, or even the varnish?  


study by acoustic scientist, Claudia Fritz, and violin maker, Joseph Curtin, has helped clarify whether the old Italian instruments actually have a superior sound quality that is distinguishable to professional violinists.


Ten professional soloists were invited to play a group of twelve instruments, comprised of six old violins and six new violins. Each soloist had to wear dark goggles so they wouldn’t be able to identify the instruments by sight. They  played for 75 minutes in a small room and then another 75 minutes in a large 300-seat auditorium.


Following their sessions, the soloists rated each violin based on several factors, including articulation, projection, and playability. The study revealed that the soloists could distinguish one violin from another, but when it came to identifying old violins versus new ones, the soloists could have blindly guessed and been just as accurate.


The soloists preferred the new violins to the old ones in a 3-to-2 ratio. Furthermore, the most popular violin was a new one. The study reveals that perhaps paying the large price tag for an old Italian violin isn’t necessary to still have high quality sound.

What we can glean from this study is that younger violinists can be confident that they can still find a quality contemporary instrument in their price range.

photo credit: Hen3k Hen3k via photopin cc

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