Sunday, January 29, 2012

I told you so

The following is an abstract from an article which appeared earlier this month in some journal of the academy of science. The New York Times said something about it too.  It testifies to something I have been saying for years. New instruments are just as good, if not better, than old ones. Anyone spending a million dollars on an old violin is just wasting their money, unless they are buying it as an investment, the way one would buy an antique.  If you just want a violin to actually play on, buy a new one.  You will save a bundle.  By the way, the exact same thing applies to bows.  “Most violinists believe that instruments by Stradivari and Guarneri “del Gesu” are tonally superior to other violins - and to new violins in particular.  Many mechanical and acoustical factors have been proposed to account for this superiority; however, the fundamental premise of tonal superiority has not yet been properly investigated.  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.  Rather than searching for the secret of Stradivari, future research might best be focused on how violinists evaluate instruments, on which specific playing qualities are most important to them, and on how these qualities relate to measurable attributes of the instruments, whether old or new.”  

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