High-End vs. Low-End Violins – What’s The Big Deal?
When you’re a newcomer to the violin market, it's easy to feel wary about selecting an instrument that ranges from $25 at a garage sale to $1 million dollars or more in aficionado auctions. So what's the difference between high-end and low-end violins?
When you own a high-quality, mid-range contemporary violin with fantastic sound (like the Revelle Model 600), it's hard to imagine that paying 10-times or more that price would yield a playing and sound experience worthy of an exponential price increase.
Is Stradivarius Truly That Special? Or is it a Myth?
First, it's important to note that while Antonio Stradivari (17th- and 18th-century) may be the most well-known violin-maker in the world, he's not the only legacy luthier out there. Historically speaking, professional violinists are just as thrilled to own an instrument made by Francesco Ruggieri (17th-century), Nicolo Amati (17th-century) or Guiseppe Guarneri (18th-century). Any of their violins will set you back hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars. So the question becomes, is the audible output magnificently different?
You may notice that the majority of the world's most prized and coveted violins were predominantly made during the 17th and 18th-centuries. For this reason, scientists have studied every molecular thing about them, hypothesizing that unique climate and geographic conditions yielded a different quality in the maples harvested during this time. Other scientists argue that if this was the case a larger number of well-crafted violins during this period should sound equally as wonderful – and they don't.
People have studied, and continue to study, antique, high-end violins – from exact dimensions of their interior landscape to the chemical makeup of the finish – with no solid conclusions. The academic journal, The Conversation, sites a theory that, "...reproducible differences in chemical compositions between maples used by Stradivarius and Guarnieri and those used by modern instrument makers...alludes to a forgotten tradition unknown to modern violin makers that used a process of transformation through aging and vibration, resulting in a 'unique composite material.'"
Along that line, check out the great video below of world-renowned violinist David Garret, in Cremeno, Italy's Museo di Violino in 2016. Currently, Garrett’s most often heard playing his Antonio Stradivari "A.Busch" 1716. While at the Museo di Violino, however, he was able to try five of the museo's most prized violins:
- Nicolò Amati Lam ex Collin 1669
- Antonio Stradivari Clisbee 1669
- Antonio Stradivari Cremonese 1715
- Antonio Stradivari Lam ex Scotland University 1734
- Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù Stauffer 1734
Of those, his favorite turned out to be the later-model Stradivarius. It's a treat to hear the different sound qualities and feelings that resonate from great violins...including different violins made by the same luthier.
In a 2010 radio interview, the French violinist Renaud Capuçon describes his shift from a beloved Stradivarius to a Guarneri because he said the Stradivarius is more feminine and powerfully direct, whereas the Guarneri has a deeper, darker, more masculine sound – but with more body and less of a laser-focused sound.
So personal taste is certainly a factor, but we also can't ignore recent research indicating there may not be something special about those violins at all - other than the so-called “halo effect.”
Contemporary Violins Reign When Experts Remove the Halo Effect
The halo effect is an explanation of how things we have been told are better will seem better when we try them, because our bias already swings in their direction.
In 2011 a group of researchers was truly surprised when, "... the most-preferred violin in the test set was a new one and the least-preferred had been made by Stradivari. They also found that most players seemed unable to tell whether their most-preferred instrument was new or old." This particular study included both Stradivarius and Guarneri violins, as well as high-end violins that were only one day to a few months old.
The study's findings indicate there is something to the idea that violins made by the prominent luthiers of the 17th- and 18th-centuries are glowing with their own halos that enchant those who have the opportunity to play them. It's also wonderful news for advanced and pre-professional violinists as it means a high-quality, violin that produces impeccable sound is realistically within reach.
Quality Matters More Than Age
Ultimately, the quality of your violin and the bow outrank the age of the violin, and perhaps even its famous maker, the large majority of the time.
To start, beginning violinists need only buy or rent a decent-quality violin, and it would be rare to spend even $1000 unless you knew you had a dedicated prodigy on your hands. If you're migrating from beginner to intermediate or advanced-levels, it might be time to upgrade your violin. Only a true professional, who's booking regular concerts and can comfortably afford the payment, should consider purchasing a collector violin priced at $10,000 or more.
We invite you to explore our own range of Revelle violins. Although they aren't made by Stradivarius or Guarneri, they're handcrafted by some of the world's most gifted luthiers and sound quality exceeds the value of their modest pricing.
Top image: David Garret plays a A.Stradivari 1715 "Il Cremonese" violin at the Museo del Violino. Courtesy of Youtube.