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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 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.
Player preferences among new and old violins
Claudia Fritz
, Joseph Curtin
, Jacques Poitevineau
, Palmer Morrel-Samuels
, and Fan-Chia Tao
Lutheries-Acoustique-Musique, Institut Jean Le Rond dAlembert, Unité Mixte de Recherche 7190, Centre National de la Recherche Scientique, Université
Paris 06, 75015 Paris, France;
Joseph Curtin Studios, Ann Arbor, MI 48103;
University of Michigan and Employee Motivation and Performance Assessment,
Chelsea, MI 48118; and
DAddario and Company, Farmingdale, NY 11735
Edited by Dale Purves, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, and approved December 5, 2011 (received for review September 12, 2011)
Most violinists believe that instruments by Stradivari and Guarneri
del Gesuare tonally superior to other violinsand to new violins
in particular. Many mechanical and acoustical factors have been pro-
posed to account for this superiority; however, the fundamental
premise of tonal superiority has not yet been properly investigated.
Players judgments about a Stradivarissoundmaybebiasedbythe
violins 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 violinistsindividual
experiences of playing the instruments under double-blind condi-
tions in a room with relatively dry acoustics. We found that (i)the
most-preferred violin was new; (ii) the least-preferred was by Stra-
divari; (iii) there was scant correlation between an instrumentsage
and monetary value and its perceived quality; and (iv)mostplayers
seemed unable to tell whether their most-preferred instrument was
new or old. These results present a striking challenge to conven-
tional 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 secretof Stradivari,
future research might best focused on how violinists evaluate
instruments, on which specic playing qualities are most important
to them, and on how these qualities relate to measurable attributes
of the instruments, whether old or new.
tone quality
old Italian sound
subjective evaluation
Almost all well-known violin soloists since the early 1800s have
chosen to play instruments by Antonio Stradivari or Giuseppe
Guarneri del Gesu,the two most celebrated craftsmen of the so-
called Golden Age of violin-making (ca. 1550 to ca. 1750). A long-
standing goal of violin research has been to correlate the playing
qualities of these instruments with specic attributes of their
physical structure and dynamic behavior, and yet no [objectively
measurable] specication which successfully denes even coarse
divisions in instrument quality is known(authors italics) (1). Many
factors have been proposed and/or investigated to account for the
presumed tonal superiority of old Italian violins, including prop-
erties of the varnish (2, 3), effects of the Little Ice Age on violin
wood (4), differences in the relative densities of early- and late-
growth layers in wood (5), chemical treatments of the wood (6, 7),
plate-tuning methods (8), and the spectral balance of the radiated
sound (911). However, although correlations between violin
acoustics and perception have been attempted (12), the funda-
mental premise of tonal superiority has not yet been properly in-
vestigated. Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu may well be the
greatest violin makersever, but it takes an expert opinion based on
visual and historical (rather than tonal) evidence to say whether a
particular example is genuine. Playing and listening tests never
enter the authentication process, suggesting the difculty of re-
liably rating playing qualitiesand that they may not correlatewell
with an instruments age and maker.
Weinreich (1) argues that any experienced player can classify
a violin as a student,”“decent professional,or ne soloin-
strument; furthermore, the judgment would not take more than
about 30 s, and the opinions of different violinists would coincide
absolutely.According to Langhoff (13), any musician will tell
you immediately whether an instrument he is playing on is an
antique instrument or a modern one.Neither of these hypo-
thetical statements has been tested, and, apart from recent pre-
liminary results (14), the research literature contains no well-
controlled studies on how violinists rate violins or whether they can
distinguish old Italian violins from old French or new American
violins by their playing qualities alone.
In a recent wine-tasting experiment (15), subjects were given
samples to taste while an MRI machine monitored brain activity. It
was found that increasing the stated price of a wine increased the
level of avor pleasantnessreported by subjects; it also increased
activity in an area of the brain believed to encode for experienced
pleasantness.Could a violinists preference for a Stradivari violin
and, indeed, the pleasure he or she experiences in playing itbe in
part attributable to an awareness of its multimillion-dollar price tag
and historical importance, both of which may be signaled by its
distinctive appearance? Conversely, could the experience of playing
a new violin be negatively affected by the belief that it is still cen-
turies from tonal maturity? To avoid any such biases, we tested
player preferences under double-blind conditions by using high-
quality new violins together with distinguished old Italians.
Materials and Methods
The experiment took advantage of the ne violinists, violin-makers, and violins
gathered in September 2010 for the Eighth InternationalViolin Competition of
Indianapolis (IVCI), one of the most important international violin-playing
competitions. Six instruments were assembled: three new and three old. The
new violins (N1,N2, and N3) were each by a different makerand were between
several days and several years old. They were chosen from a pool of violins
assembled by theauthors, who then selected the three that theyfelt (i) had the
most impressive playing qualities and (ii) contrasted with each other in terms
of character of sound. One was a Stradivari model; two were Guarneri models.
The old violins consisted of one by Guarneri del Gesu (ca. 1740) and two by
Antonio Stradivari (ca. 1700 and ca. 1715). These violins were loaned with the
stipulation that they remain in the condition in which we received them
(precluding any tonal adjustments or even changing the strings) and that their
identities remain condential (hence the very general descriptions that fol-
low). The earlier Stradivari (O1) was once the principal instrument of a well-
known 20th century violinist and currently belongs to an institution that loans
it to gifted violinists.It came to us from a soloist who had used it for numerous
concerts and several commercial recordings in recentyears. The later Stradivari
(O3) is from the makersGolden Periodand has been used by a number of
well-known violinists for concerts and recordings.The Guarneri del Gesu (O2) is
from the makers late period, during which he made some of his most cele-
brated violins. The combined value of the old violins is approximately $10
millionroughly 100 times that of the new violins. Although the instruments
were not all set up with the same strings, all had the very typical combination
of a steel E with metal-wound, synthetic-core strings for the rest. All strings
appeared to be in good condition.
Author contributions: C.F., J.C., P.M.-S., and F.-C.T. designed research; C.F., J.C., and F.-C.T.
performed research; C.F., J.C., and J.P. analyzed data; and C.F., J.C., and J.P. wrote
the paper.
The authors declare no conict of interest.
This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
C.F. and J.C. contributed equally to this work.
To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:
This article contains supporting information online at
January 17, 2012
vol. 109
no. 3
Numbers of subjects and instruments were small because it is difcult to
persuade theowners of fragile, enormously valuableold violins to release them
for extended periods into the hands of blindfolded strangers. Many of the 21
subjects were involved with the IVCI as contestants(four), jury members (two),
or members of the Indianapolis Symphony. Nineteen subjects described
themselves as professionals, 10 had advanced degrees in music, and 2 were
later chosen as competition laureates.The subjects ranged in age from 20 to65
y, had played violin for 1561 y, and owned violins between 3 and 328 y old,
with approximate values ranging from $1,800 (US) to $10 million (SI Text).
Although we believe all subjects were sufciently skilled for their preferences
to be meaningful, we are aware that players with different levels of expertise
may form their preferences on different grounds. This factor, however, is
outside the scope of our study.
To attract participants, potential subjects were told that they would have
the chance to play a number of ne violins, including at least one by Stradivari.
No other information about test instruments, including the number involved,
or whether they were old or new, was disclosed. Subjects were scheduled for
individual, 1-h sessions, before which they were given instructions to read (SI
Text) and a questionnaire and consent form to ll out. When trying out
instruments, violinists typically use their own bows, which through constant
use have become, in effect, extensions of their bow arms. In light of this
practice, we asked subjects to bring their own bows. Forthe four who did not,
a single good-quality bow was provided. Most violinists prefer to try out
violins in a room with relatively dry acoustics, where the direct sound from the
instrument is not so much colored by room reections. Sessions were there-
fore conducted in a hotel room whose acoustics seemed well-suited to the
task. We are aware that room acoustics may inuence a players preference
for one instrument or another. However, that is a separate question not
covered in this study.
Throughout the sessions, subjects wore modied weldersgoggles, which,
together with much-reduced ambient lighting, made it impossible to identify
instruments by eye. To mask any distinctive smells, a dab of scent was put
under the chinrestof each violin. The hotel room was dividedinto two areas by
a cloth screen. To preserve double-blind conditions, violins were passed from
behind the screen to a researcher wearing goggles, who laid them on a bed in
the order received.
This study explores player preferences under two sets of conditions. One
set, designed to maximize ecological validity, emulated the way players
choose instruments at a violin shop, where they typically try a selection of
instruments before selecting one to take home for further testing. All six test
instruments were laid out in random order on the bed. Subjects were then
given 20 min to choose (i) the single instrument they would most like to
take home with themand (ii) the instruments they considered bestand
worstin each of four categories: range of tone colors, projection, play-
ability, and response. These terms, all commonly used by players when
evaluating instruments, were left undened. If a term lacked clear meaning
for a subject, he/she was told not to choose in that category. Although
projection can, by denition, be judged only at a distance by a listener,
players regularly estimate projection when testing a violin. They typically
acknowledge (as did many of our subjects) the provisional nature of such
estimates and the need to retest in a large hall with trusted listeners. Note,
however, that our experiment was designed to test not the objective qual-
ities of the instruments but rather the subjective preferences of the subjects
under a specic set of conditions.
When making the best/worst selections,equal ranking betweeninstruments
was permitted (i.e., several could tie for best or worst), as was refraining from
choosing. Subjects were free to play the instruments in any order and in any
manner they saw t, including switching back and forth among them. They
were also encouraged to comment out loud about the instruments and se-
lection process. A researcher made notes of the subjectscomments but
responded to them only to conrm what had been said. At the end of the
session, subjectswere invited to guess the making-schoolof their take-home
instrumentsan indirect way of assessing their ability to distinguish new
instruments from old ones.
Our second set of test conditions, designed with the statements of Wein-
reich and Langhoff in mind, asked subjects to assess instruments rather quickly.
Each subject was presented with a series of 10 pairs of violins. For each pair,
subjects were given 1 min to play whatever they liked on the rst violin, then
another minute for the second violin, without switching back and forth be-
tween them. The minute began with the rst played note, including any
tuning, and ended with the ringing of a bell. Subjects were then asked to state
which violin they preferred. Unbeknownst to them, each pair consisted of
a new and an old violin. Our set of three and three thus allowed for nine
possible pairings. The order of the pairsand of the instruments within each
pairwas randomized to avoid presentation order effects. As a rudimentary
test for consistency, one of the nine pairs was presented twice. The retested
pair was positioned randomly but with at least one other pair-wise compari-
son separating test from retest. The pair-wise comparisons were conducted at
the beginning of each session and will thus be referred to as part 1of the
experiment and the take-home/best/worst selections as part 2.We believed
that (i) part 1 should not be conducted after the subjects had played the
violins for 20 min and (ii) part 1 was not likely to affect part 2 judgments
because subjects were given no information about any (possible) relationships
between the violins in parts 1 and 2.
Results and Discussion
When analyzing player preferences in part 1, we omitted the ret-
ests and considered only the primary nine pairs, where each in-
strument was played just once by each subject (SI Text). From
these nine pairs, the mean number of times an old violin was
chosen was 3.7. The two-sided 95% condence interval (CI; all CIs
are two-sided 95% intervals through the article) is [2.8; 4.5]. Al-
though this interval leaves room for old and new to be equally
preferred, equality is in itself a radical notion given prevailing
opinions about old violins.
Table 1 shows the number of times each violin was chosen in
each of the nine new/old pairings. In the six pairings not involving
O1, the other ve violins were chosen about equally often. By
contrast, whenever O1 was paired with a new violin, it was chosen
markedly less often. It seems that under these test conditions, only
a conspicuously least-preferred violin differentiates itself. That
violin happened to be a Stradivari (ca. 1700), and its consistent
rejection appears to drive the overall preference for new violins
seen above. We found no evidence that this preference was af-
fected by the age of the subjectsown violin (SI Text).
Considering now the retested pairs, just 11 of 21 subjects (52%)
made the same choice twice. The CI is [30%; 74%], meaning no
rm conclusions about player consistency can be drawn. Note,
however, that if subjects perform no better than chance in such
a test, two possible conclusions might be drawn: (i) the instruments
are about equal in overall quality (as suggested in Table 1), which
means that forcing subjects to choose among them (in effect)
forces random choices, where consistency cannot be expected, and
(ii) subjects cannot choose consistently under part 1 conditions,
which may therefore be unsuited to studying player preferences
(SI Text).
In part 2, subjects were free to play any violin against any other,
new or old, and to dividetime between the instruments as they saw
t. Fig. 1 shows how often each violin was chosen as take-home
choice (dark gray bar) and then as best or worst in four categories.
Eight subjects voluntarily identied their least favorite instru-
ments; these are shown in black beneath the take-home bar. Eight
subjects had difculty deciding which of two violins to take home:
the times a violinwas a close second is shown above the take-home
bar in lighter gray.
In contrast to part 1, where ve violins were chosen about
equally, the violins now differentiate themselves more clearly. A
single new instrument, N2, stands out as the most preferred: it was
Table 1. Number of times each violin was chosen in each of the
new/old pairings
Pairs New violin chosen Old violin chosen CI for old, %
N1O1 15 6 [11; 52]
N2O1 18 3 [3; 36]
N3O1 16 5 [8; 47]
N1O2 10 11 [30; 74]
N2O2 10 11 [30; 74]
N3O2 11 10 [26; 70]
N1O3 11 10 [26; 70]
N2O3 11 10 [26; 70]
N3O3 10 11 [30; 74]
Fritz et al. PNAS
January 17, 2012
vol. 109
no. 3
chosen eight times as take-home, three times as close second,
never as least-favorite, and just three times as worst-in-a-category.
By contrast, O1 (ca. 1700 Stradivari) was chosen once as take-
home, once as close second,six times as least-favorite, and 16
times as worst-in-a-category.
Although each violin was the take-home choice of at least one
subject, four violins were also the least-favorite for at least one
subject. This wide divergence in individual taste carries through
into the four categories: With the sole exception of N2s pro-
jection, each instrument was chosen as best and worst at least once
in each category. Unsurprisingly, each subject rated their take-
home violin as best in at least one category (SI Text).
Just 8 of 21 subjects (38%) chose an old violin to take home.
Given the small sample size, this disinclination toward the old
cannot be condently inferred to experienced violinists in general
(CI [18%; 62%]). Still, the upper limit for the CI is not high;
moreover, the fact that a new violin was chosen over examples by
Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu by 13 experienced violinists
(including both jury members, who compared N2 and N3 favorably
with their own Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu violins; SI Text)
stands as a bracing counterexample to conventional wisdom.
How consistent were the subjects? Of the 15 who chose new
violins more often than old ones in part 1, 7 later chose old violins
to take home. Against this, ve subjects who chose old violins more
often in part 1 later chose new violins to take home (SI Text). By
this measure, just 9 of 21 were consistentalthough this nding
seems unsurprising given the way preferences shifted as time was
spent with individual instruments (SI Text). What was consistent
through parts 1 and 2 was a preference for new violins and a
specic dislike for O1.
Can violinists tell new violins from old by their playing qualities
alone? In coding the best/worst selections in the four categories,
violins were given a score of +1 for bestin a category, 1for
worst,and 0 for neither bestnor worst. This coding allowed
us to accommodate subjects who selected as many as six violins as
bestor worst(e.g., by saying all are equally good)orasfew
as none (e.g., by saying none are bad). Because the scores range
from 1 to +1, a difference of 0.50 is a huge effect and one of 0.33
is quite strong. Results are presented in Fig. 2.
Subjects rated new violins signicantly more highly (P<0.02)
than old ones for playability and response, but no signicant dif-
ference was seen for projection (P= 0.62) and tone colors (P=
0.08), so that uncertainty remains (SI Text). Asked about the
making-school of their take-home instruments, 17 subjects re-
sponded: 7 said they had no idea, 7 guessed wrongly (i.e., that
a new violin was old or vice-versa), and just 3 guessed correctly (SI
Text). In light of this result, Langhoffs assertion (13) becomes
difcult to sustain, as does the case for special playing qualities
unique to old Italian violins.
This double-blind experiment is unique in studying player
(rather than listener) preferences using new violins alongside
distinguished old Italians. In a room chosen for its relatively dry
acoustics, a preference for new violins was seen under two dis-
tinctly different sets of conditions. Under both sets, one particular
Stradivari was the least-preferred instrument; under the second,
a single new violin emerged as most-preferred. Subjects seemed
not to distinguish between new violins and old but rather to choose
instruments whose playing qualities best t their individual tastes.
It is worth noting that these preferences were based solely on the
Fig. 1. Number of times each violin was selected as take-home and then as best or worst in four categories. Also shown are volunteered selections for close
second and least-favorite (above and below take-home block, respectively).
Fig. 2. Averaged scores of the six violins for the four criteria. The error bars
correspond to ±1 SE of mean.
| Fritz et al.
experience of playing the instruments, meaning subjects heard
them under the earonly and not at a distance.
Notwithstanding all of the above, the particular visual beauty
and historical importance of old Italian violins will no doubt
maintain their hold on the imagination of violinists and their
audiences for a long time to come. This prospect comes through
nicely in a comment by one of our subjects, an eventual competi-
tion laureate: When asked the making-school of the new instru-
ment he had just chosen to take home, he smiled and said only, I
hope its an [old] Italian.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. This experiment was made possible by the gener-
osity and open-mindedness of Glen Kwok of the IVCI, our 21 subjects,
and the owners and makers of the test violins. We are also grateful to
Yung Chin as well as Gabriel Weinreich for their helpful suggestions. We
thank two anonymous reviewers for their detailed and constructive
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Fritz et al. PNAS
January 17, 2012
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... Despite the enormous cost, allure, and prestige of these instruments, the three studies that investigated the perceptual quality of these violins could not find empirical data supporting the myth. Fritz et al. (2012b), Fritz et al. (2014) and Fritz et al. (2017) asked functionally blindfolded violinists to play a set of new and old violins (mainly Stradivari), select their favourite, and in Fritz et al. (2012b) and Fritz et al. (2014), tell whether the instruments were new or old. The results of these studies were consistent. ...
... Despite the enormous cost, allure, and prestige of these instruments, the three studies that investigated the perceptual quality of these violins could not find empirical data supporting the myth. Fritz et al. (2012b), Fritz et al. (2014) and Fritz et al. (2017) asked functionally blindfolded violinists to play a set of new and old violins (mainly Stradivari), select their favourite, and in Fritz et al. (2012b) and Fritz et al. (2014), tell whether the instruments were new or old. The results of these studies were consistent. ...
... The favourite was more often a new violin rather than a Stradivari. Finally, the violinists were unable to distinguish the old from the new violins (Fritz et al., 2012b;Fritz et al., 2014), demonstrating that the mythic Italian violins of the 18th century (the set of old violins included another mythic violin: Guarneri Del Ges u) may not emerge as clearly as some were expecting (Langhoff, 1994). More recently, Fritz, et al. (2017) investigated the violin sound projection ("how well an instrument can be heard at a distance," p. 5395) and how it relates to the preference for one or another violin. ...
Full-text available
The violins of Stradivari are recognized worldwide as an excellence in craftsmanship, a model for instrument makers, and an unachievable desire for collectors and players. However, despite the myth surrounding these instruments, blindfolded players tendentially prefer to play modern violins. Here, we present a double blind listening experiment aimed at analyzing and comparatively rating the sound timbre of violins. The mythic instruments were listened to among other well regarded and not so well regarded violins. 70 listeners (violin makers of the Cremona area) rated the timbre difference between the simple musical scales played on a test and a reference violin, and the results showed that their preference converged on one particular Stradivari. The acoustical measurements revealed some similarities between the subjective ratings and the physical characteristics of the violins. It is speculated that the myth of Stradivari could have been boosted, among other factors, by the specimens of tonal superior quality, which biased favourably the judgment on his instruments and spread on all of the maker's production. These results contribute to the understanding of the timbre of violins and suggest the characteristics that are in a relationship with the pleasantness of the timbre.
... In the production of violins, the selection of wood material is a fundamental requirement for ensuring the acoustic quality of the musical instrument. Following the mechanical processing of the constructive elements of the violin, the quality of the resonant wood is enhanced by their geometry and dimensional accuracy [1][2][3]. At the end of the production process, the instrumental artists are the ones who establish the acoustic quality of the instrument depending on the experience, personality, age, the way of artistic expression. ...
... In other studies, the acoustic perception was compared with the visual one in order to validate or invalidate the idea that the old violins have a superior acoustic quality to the new ones. Applying a blind test, in which the respondents did not see the violin, it turned out that their preference, from an acoustic point of view, was directed more towards the new violins than the old ones, [3]. In other research, the effect of acoustic changes (especially changes in the frequency response of the violin) on the perceptual qualities described in words by the respondent was studied, [4]. ...
In this paper, the manufacturing technologies of violins, followed by a study on the psycho-acoustic evaluation of violins with different anatomic structure of wood are presented. The evaluation was performed by music experts (performers, teachers, students) based on music auditions of excerpts recorded on the violins studied. The musical performance was performed by the same violinist, under the same conditions. Respondents rated five acoustic criteria. The statistic results showed that age, experience, gender influence the acoustic perception and also that the geometric characteristics of the violins produce different acoustic impressions.
... Since 2005, many psychoacoustic studies have been performed on conventional bowed instruments (Inta et al. 2005;Fritz et al. 2006Fritz et al. , 2010Fritz et al. , 2012aFritz et al. ,b, 2014Fritz et al. , 2017Saitis et al. , 2015Saitis 2013;Wollman et al. 2014;Lloyd et al. 2018;Taher et al. 2018;Zhang et al. 2018;Yokoyama 2020). These studies have yielded interesting results regarding the preference of listeners and players, such as the finding that there is no clear preference of listeners and players for old violins over contemporary instruments (Fritz et al. 2012b(Fritz et al. , 2017. Saitis et al. (2013Saitis et al. ( , 2015 found that violin players are self-consistent and that their consistency is significantly improved by giving them a well-focused constraint task in comparison to a less constraint setting. ...
... When a participant was finished playing a violin, he/ she gave the instrument back to me, after which I repositioned it behind the curtain. Only then the violin player could remove the blindfold and fill in the questionnaire for said instrument and use a 5-point Likert scale to rate the violins on the attributes sound color, projection, playability and response (based on Fritz et al. 2012b) as well as choose words to describe the sound of the violin. It was communicated to participants that breaks in between violins were allowed, but none of the players requested a break during the test. ...
... The question is whether the fame of an instrument also primes the way the instrument is experienced. Fritz et al. (2012) called in for a double-blind test in which a group of twenty-one soloists evaluated six violins, three old ones (Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu) and three new ones. They found that the new violins were repeatedly preferred above the old ones. ...
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A techno-cognitive look at how new technologies are shaping the future of musicking. “Musicking” encapsulates both the making of and perception of music, so it includes both active and passive forms of musical engagement. But at its core, it is a relationship between actions and sounds, between human bodies and musical instruments. Viewing musicking through this lens and drawing on music cognition and music technology, Sound Actions proposes a model for understanding differences between traditional acoustic “sound makers” and new electro-acoustic “music makers.” What is a musical instrument? How do new technologies change how we perform and perceive music? What happens when composers build instruments, performers write code, perceivers become producers, and instruments play themselves? The answers to these pivotal questions entail a meeting point between interactive music technology and embodied music cognition, what author Alexander Refsum Jensenius calls “embodied music technology.” Moving between objective description and subjective narrative of his own musical experiences, Jensenius explores why music makes people move, how the human body can be used in musical interaction, and how new technologies allow for active musical experiences. The development of new music technologies, he demonstrates, has fundamentally changed how music is performed and perceived.
... There are no objective descriptors that can separate a "good" violin from a "great" one and yet some instruments can reach prices up in the millions. Even professional musicians have trouble distinguishing old from new violins, and their preference does not necessarily correlate with the price of the instrument [1][2][3]. At the end of the day, it comes down to the subjective preference of the player. ...
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Comparing violins requires competence and involves both subjective and objective evaluations. In this manuscript, vibration tests were performed on a set of 25 violins, both historical and new. The resulting bridge admittances were modeled in the low and mid-frequency ranges through a set of objective features. Once projected into the new representation, the bridge admittances of three historical violins made by Stradivari and a famous reproduction revealed high similarity. PCA highlighted the importance of signature mode frequencies, bridge hill behavior, and signature mode amplitudes in distinguishing different violins.
... From this aspect, the determining factors have been analyzed over time: the structural quality of wood, moisture content, wood aging, plate geometry (thickness/arching), finishes used, constructive elements (sound post, position and shape of acoustic holes, sounding bar, bridge), and string quality. Other studies have highlighted the effect of aging wood and varnish, the contribution of the primer and even the attack of fungi on the acoustic quality of old violins [25][26][27][28]. Studies conducted over time on old and new violins show contradictory results: in some studies, the acoustic and dynamic response of old violins is presented as a standard for the analysis of new ones; in other studies in which the acoustic impressions of soloists were analyzed through blind tests (without the respondents seeing the violins or knowing their history), the results showed that, from the point of view of the acoustic criteria, the new violins present a much more appreciated acoustic quality than the old ones [24,[29][30][31][32][33]. ...
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The paper aims to investigate old and new violins from the perspective of the correlation between the anatomical structure of spruce and maple wood, and the dynamic response of violins. Thus, in the first stage, for each violin, the characteristics of the annual rings were measured on the entire width of the top plate, determining the degree of symmetry of the face with respect to the longitudinal axis of the violin body. Then, each violin was dynamically tested with the impact hammer, determining its own frequency spectrum, mainly the so-called “signature” mode and quality factors. The most important findings consist of identification of the first five modes for old violins, (known as provenance), current new violins, and violins whose origin is unknown, but which could correlate with anatomical, constructive and dynamic characteristics, in order to be able establish origins, and also the measurement of anatomical features of top and back plates in the violins’ construction.
Boron compounds (BC) are eco-friendly and effective wood preservatives and have recently been found in the soundboards of Stradivari and Guarneri stringed musical instruments made in the 18th century. The effectiveness of BC protection against decay and insects has been validated extensively. However, the effects of BC on the vibro-mechanical properties of wood remain unclear. In this study, spruce wood was impregnated with the wood preservatives, disodium octaborate tetrahydrate (DOT), boric acid (BA), and sodium tetraborate pentahydrate (BX), and their effects on the physical and vibro-mechanical properties were investigated. The free-free flexural vibration method was sequentially applied to identical specimens before and after treatment at 23 °C and 30, 65, and 90% RH. The results indicated that the hygroscopicity increased and the dimensional stability decreased upon the three BC impregnation. Nevertheless, the acoustical properties were improved by the three BC treatments, particularly the acoustic conversion efficiency, which benefited from the decreased internal friction tan δ . FTIR spectroscopy combined with principal component analysis showed that an extensive boron-wood network was formed inside the wood, in contrast to the deionized water treatment. The effect of boron types on the acoustics and molecular structure overall depended on the solution pH and the network formed within the wood. One percent concentrations of the three BC-treated samples exhibited some acoustic enhancement and reduced humidity impacting performance compared to the higher concentration treatments. This study reveals the potential of BC treatment for improving the vibro-mechanical performance of spruce.
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Musical instrument making is often considered a mysterious form of art, its secrets still escaping scientific quantification. There is not yet a formula to make a good instrument, so historical examples are regarded as the pinnacle of the craft. This is the case of Stradivari’s violins or Torres guitars that serve as both models and examples to follow. Geometric copies of these instruments are still the preferred way of building new ones, yet reliably making acoustic copies of them remains elusive. One reason for this is that the variability of the wood used for instruments makes for a significant source of uncertainty -- no two pieces of wood are the same. In this article, using state-of-the-art methodologies, we show a method for matching the vibrational response of two guitar top plates made with slightly different materials. To validate our method, we build two guitar soundboards: one serving as a reference and the second acting as a copy to which we apply model-predicted geometry variations. The results are twofold. Firstly, we can experimentally validate the predictive capabilities of our numerical model regarding geometry changes. Secondly, we can significantly reduce the deviation between the two plates by these precisely predicted geometry variations. Although applied to guitars here, the methodology can be extended to other instruments, e.g. violins, in a similar fashion. The implications of such a methodology for the craft could be far-reaching by turning instrument-making more into a science than artistic craftsmanship and paving the way to accurately copy historical instruments of a high value.
The identification of material parameters of classical guitars is particularly interesting as the orthotropic material parameters of wood vary largely and lead to hearable differences even in seemingly identical instruments. Identification methods intended to achieve this task commonly try to fit, e.g., finite element models to experimental data by minimizing a given objective function, and typically return precise parameter values. However, such one-point estimators do not contain much information with respect to the uncertainty that may remain regarding the true values – irrespective of whether such a ground truth can be assumed at all. Model updating techniques that also intend to quantify these uncertainties typically require the practitioner to specify a statistical model of the experiment, which is not easily formulated. Moreover, virtually all uncertainty quantification techniques require a high number of model evaluations, which is diametrically opposed to the long evaluation times of high-fidelity finite element models. In this contribution, an alternative technique for uncertainty quantification based on possibility theory is proposed and applied to a classical guitar. Only requiring the practitioner to specify an objective function, which may be identical to the one used to find point estimates, it is readily accessible and straightforward to apply. Great emphasis is put on the construction of a high-fidelity guitar model and the construction of suitable surrogate models via parametric model order reduction based on Krylov subspace methods, which drastically reduces the number of degrees of freedom in the surrogate model of the finite element model while maintaining the parameter dependency. In this manner, model order reduction allows for significant speedups of the model evaluations and, more importantly here, facilitates the uncertainty quantification in the first place. It is demonstrated how this scheme is able to find regions of plausible parameter values of the guitar and how one may distinguish quasi-identical instruments with great confidence, e.g., due to the disjointness of such regions, compared to the moderate confidence implied by more or less disagreeing point estimates. Although motivated by the material parameter identification of guitars, the presented method yields great potential for applicability to inverse problems tackled with finite element models in general.
The classical guitar is a popular string instrument in which the sound results from a coupled mechanical process. The oscillation of the plucked strings is transferred through the bridge to the body, which acts as an amplifier to radiate the sound. In this contribution, a procedure to create a numerical finite element (FE) model of a classical guitar with the help of experimental data is presented. The geometry of the guitar is reverse-engineered from computed tomography scans to a very high level of detail, and care is taken in including all necessary physical influences. All of the five different types of wood used in the guitar are modeled with their corresponding orthotropic material characteristics, and the fluid-structure interaction between the guitar body and the enclosed air is taken into account by discretizing the air volume inside the guitar with FEs in addition to the discretization of the structural parts. Besides the numerical model, an experimental setup is proposed to identify the modal parameters of a guitar. The procedure concludes with determining reasonable material properties for the numerical model using experimental data. The quality of the resulting model is demonstrated by comparing the numerically calculated and experimentally identified modal parameters.
Conference Paper
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A perceptual experiment was designed to investigate how consistent violinists are at evaluating violin quality. The objective was to examine both intra- and inter-subject consistency across a certain range of violins. Skilled classical violinists were asked to play a set of different violins, evaluate their quality, and order them by preference. Violins of different periods were used, varying from student to performance level. Low light conditions and dark sunglasses were used to hide the identity of the instruments as much as possible. Considering the bow as an extension of the player, violinists carried out the task using their own bow. Upon completing the task, participants had to comment on the ranking process and provide rationale for their choices. Preliminary results from a pilot study indicate that both intra- and inter-subject consistency are high when violinists are presented a small group of instruments that are fairly distinct from one another. Results of a more in-depth study (with more instruments, some very similar to one another) will be presented at the conference.
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This work explored how the perception of violin notes is influenced by the magnitude of the applied vibrato and by the level of damping of the violin resonance modes. Damping influences the "peakiness" of the frequency response, and vibrato interacts with this peakiness by producing fluctuations in spectral content as well as in frequency and amplitude. Initially, it was shown that thresholds for detecting a change in vibrato amplitude were independent of body damping, and thresholds for detecting a change in body damping were independent of vibrato amplitude. A study of perceptual similarity using triadic comparison showed that vibrato amplitude and damping were largely perceived as independent dimensions. A series of listening tests was conducted employing synthesized, recorded, or live performance to probe perceptual responses in terms of "liveliness" and preference. The results do not support the conclusion that liveliness results from the combination of the use of vibrato and a "peaky" violin response. Judgments based on listening to single notes showed inconsistent patterns for liveliness, while preferences were highest for damping that was slightly less than for a reference (real) violin. In contrast, judgments by players based on many notes showed preference for damping close to the reference value.
Acoustical effects of violin varnish—those of mass, stiffness, and internal friction—are examined qualitatively and quantitatively. Dynamic measurements of Young&apos;s modulus, real and imaginary, are made for films of typical oil varnishes on a substrate of cross‐grain spruce through aging periods of 1 yr or more and expressed in the practically useful terms of modulus over density. After 1 1 2 yr , the hard varnish had a real modulus per unit density of 2.5 × 1010 cm2/sec2 and Q about 23; after 1 yr, the values for the soft varnish were 1.6 × 1010 and 8. A high‐grade floor varnish had intermediate values. The imaginary component of the soft one was substantially independent of frequency from 400 to 5600 cps. Exact calculations of added loss and tuning shift, made for a “pseudofiddle” comprising rectangular top and back of orthotropic materials simulating spruce and maple, are believed roughly representative of the violin. Added loss is more apt to be damaging than is detuning of plates. The loss comprises two components: (1) a reduction in sound caused by the reactive parameters of varnish, i.e. mass and stiffness, and effective irrespective of resonance; and (2) one caused by internal friction and greatest at a resonance. With an intermediate varnish, a coat of 0.0127 gm/cm2 (thickness about 0.005 in.) causes “flat” loss of about 1 dB and resonance loss about 3 dB; this is excessive. Varnish loss in the top plate is about three times that in the back; unless the spruce is overly resonant, its varnish should be thin. Top is more subject to detuning than back. Loss due to varnish is best controlled by weighing, with final adjustment of wood thickness after varnishing.
(a) Loudness‐frequency curves of violins disclose peaks caused by natural vibrations of the body and of the inner air. “Overtone peaks” occur when a natural vibration coincides with one of the partials of the tone. Shifting the frequencies of the natural vibrations is possible and can produce a more even distribution of strength. (b) The volume of tone is very sensitive to the thickness of the top plate along the line where it is attached to the rest of the body. Thinning a groove part way around the top has produced marked improvements in several instruments. (c) The air inside the box produces one noticeable peak only in the loudness curve. Tuning forks placed in front of the f‐holes produce responses but they are the result of body vibrations. (d) Experiments on f‐holes show that long ones are somewhat better than short, and also that the main function of the bass‐bar is to carry vibrations from the active foot of the bridge to the wider areas. (e) Resonating strings reduce loudness rather than increasing it. Interesting phase differences occur between strings, or the inner air, or parts of the body. (f) A string gives more tone when the others are relaxed.
This is the edited text of the Klopsteg Lecture delivered to the Summer Meeting of the AAPT on August 13, 1992. It sketches the current state of knowledge about the violin-at least as seen by the author-in two parts, Physics of the Bowed String and The Violin as a Radiator of Sound, punctuated by a number of ``meditations'' about the nature of scientific knowledge.
From the study of subharmonic series found in the violin and related instruments, it is evident that the quality and loudness of the instruments depend on the pitch and variety of the subharmonic series, and on the characteristics of the wood and the fashioning of the top and back plates. Details are given on the nature of subharmonic series and their presence as observed in several methods of testing. The single air tone, heretofore reported, is shown by more detailed tests to consist frequently of two or more closely related peaks. Observations made in a series of experiments carried on during the construction of 35 violins,violas, and cellos indicate a method of controlling tone quality and volume of the completed instrument by means of the tap tones and the acoustic properties of the free plates. Experimental equipment which makes these findings possible is described in detail. With this concept of subharmonic series and the techniques described, a large field for experimental evaluation of string instruments may well be opened up.
This paper describes a method to find a correlation between a violin's acoustic spectrum and its tonal qualities. Since the measurement of the acoustic spectrum of a violin is quite critical, a sophisticated measurements arrangement consisting of a dedicated exciter and an array of eight microphones in a semianechoic chamber was developed.A great problem is still the recognition of the tonal qualitites from the acoustic spectrum. To ease the interpretation of acoustic violin spectra a new representation of the spectrum is presented using a 3-D picture. Every fundamental tone of the playing range of the instruments is grouped together with its harmonics, which thus enables a much more direct comparison with the acoustic impression when playing the instrument. This 3-D representation gives a global picture of the acoustic qualities of an instrument and many discussions with musicians and violinmakers have shown that clear indications of the acoustical qualities of an instrument can be deduced.The arrangement described here is installed permanently at the Cremona Violin Making School, Corso Garibaldi 178, 26100 Cremona, Italy.ZusammenfassungZiel dieser Arbeit war es, einen Zusammenhang zwischen den tonlichen Qulitäten einer Geige und ihrem akustischen Spektrum zu finden.Um eine präzise Messung des akustischen Spektrums zu gewährleisten, wurde die Geige mit einem elektromagnetischen System (nach Dünnwald) angeregt und der Schalldruck im reflexionsarmen Raum an acht verschiedenen Punkten gemessenEin großes Problem ist nach wie vor das Ableiten der tonlichen Eigenschaften eines Instrumentes aus dem akustischen Spektrum: Um die Interpretation des akustischen Spektrums zu erleichtern, wurde eine neuartige Darstellungsform in Form eines dreidimensionalen Spektrums gewählt. Jeder Grundton wird zusammen mit seinen Harmonischen dargestellt und ermöglicht so einen klaren Vergleich mit dem Horeindruck beim Spiel des Instruments. Das 3D-Spektrum gibt einen globalen Eindruck der akustischen Eigenschaften eines Instrumentes wieder. Viele Diskussionen mit Musikern und Geigenbauern zeigen, daß man die klanglichen Eigenschaften einer Geige aus dem 3D-Spektrum ableiten kann.Der Meßaufbau ist fest an der Geigenbauschule (26100) Cremona, Corso Garibaldi 178, Italien, installiert.SommaireCet article décrit une méthode qui établit une correlation entre le spectre acoustique d'un violon et ses qualityés tonales. La mesure du spectre acoustique d'un violon etant délicate, nous avons mis au point un dispositif elaboréacute; comprenant un excitateur adapté et un reseau de huit microphones placés en salle semi-anéchoique.Etablir la correspondance entre qualité du son et spectre acoustique reste un problème ardu. Pour faciliter l'intérpretation des spectres de violons nous utilisons une représentation graphique à trois dimensions. Chaque fundamental de la gamme de jeu de l'instrument est regroupé avec ses harmoniques, et cela permet une comparaison plus directe avec l'impression auditive ressentie en jouant. La représentation tridimensionnelle fournit une image globale des qualitiés acoustiques de l'instrument, et de nombreuses discussions avec des musiciens et des luthiers ont montré que Ton peut déduire de cette image des indications claires sur les qualitiés acoustiques de l'instrument.Le montage expérimental décrit ici est installv a demeure à l'école de lutherie de Crémone.
The results presented in the following are based on the application of a measuring method which gives a true picture of the properties of the violins investigated. The investigations into the sound properties are based on measuremens of the frequency response of the levels of about 700 violins. The old Italian ideal of sound is used as a reference by which the quality of other instruments is measured. Five quality parameters are presented, on the basis of which it has been found that the quality of about 23% of all instruments examined matches the reference quality. Depending on the origin (factory-made violins, mastermade violins etc.), the results differ considerably. It seems probable that the abundance of very good sound properties in old Italian instruments and in violins from the hands of makers who where close to the old Italian school, can be attributed to the application of acquired knowledge. It is unlikely that these instruments have reached this high standard of quality by the process of aging.ZusammenfassungDie hier vorgestellten Ergebnisse basieren auf der Anwendung einer Meßmethode, welche die Eigenschaften der untersuchten Violinen unverfälscht widergibt. Als Grundlage für die Untersuchung der klanglichen Eigenschaften dienen Messungen der Pegelfrequenzgänge von ca. 700 Violinen. Das altitalienische Klangideal wird als Bezug verwendet, an dem die Qualität der anderen Instrumente gemessen wird. Es werden 5 Qualitätsparameter vorgestellt. Der Klang von etwa 23% aller gemessenen Instrumente entspricht danach dem Qualitätsbezug. Je nach Herkunft (Fabrikvioline, Meistervioline usw.) ist das Ergebnis stark unterschiedlich. Es scheint plausibel, daß die Häufung von sehr guten Klangeigenschaften bei altitalienischen Instrumenten und Violinen von Geigenbauern, welche mit diesen Kontakt hatten, auf die Anwendung von Wissen zurückzuführen ist. Dagegen ist unwahrscheinlich, daß diese Instrumente durch Alterung diesen hohen Qualitätsstandard erreicht haben.SommaireOn présente des résultats obtenus par application d'une méthode de mesure qui est capable de traduire sans altération les propriétés caractéristiques des violons examinés. Comme base de comparaison, on a utilisé les mesures des caractéristiques fréquencielles d'environ 700 violons. La sonorityé idéale définie par les vieux maîtres italiens reste la norme de référence, par rapport à laquelle on mesure la qualityé de l'instrument examiné. Cinq paramètres de qualityé sont proposés. Environ 23% de tous les instruments mesurés ont correspondu à cette norme de qualityé. Les résultats ont été très différents selon que les instruments étaient de fabrication industrielle ou artisanale. L'accumulation de très bonnes qualityés sonores, dans les instruments provenant de l'ltalie ancienne ou de luthiers qui étaient en contact avec elle, semble bien provenir de l'application d'un savoir-faire professionnel. Il est par contre hautement improbable que le haut standard de qualité d'un instrument puisse provenir uniquement de son vieillissement.
SummaryInstruments produced by the master violinmakers of the late 17th and early 18th centuries are reputed to have superior tonal qualities relative to more contemporary instruments. Many hypotheses have been proffered to explain this difference in sound quality, but all hypotheses were found wanting. We propose an alternative hypothesis based on the unique climate situation that existed between AD 1645–1715 known as the Maunder Minimum. This period of reduced solar activity was noted also for its lowered temperatures, which therefore caused reductions in tree growth rates. We hypothesize that the longer winters and cooler summers produced wood that had slower, more even growth, desirable properties for producing higher-quality sounding boards. During Stradivari's latter decades, he used spruce wood that had grown mostly during the Maunder Minimum. These lowered temperatures, combined with the environmental setting (i. e., topography, elevation, and soil conditions) of the forest stands from where the spruce wood was obtained, produced unique wood properties and superior sound quality. This combination of climate and environmental properties has not occurred since Stradivari's “Golden Period.”