Sunday, March 19, 2017

What's the Best Sounding Violin?

By Andy Fein, Violin Maker and Owner, Fein Violins

In our shop, we're often asked "What's the best sounding violin?" Everyone wants the best sound, of course. Every player wants to have great tone, great projection, and fast response. Who wouldn't??? But..... (and there's always a but) I think two words have been left out of that question. The question really should be "What's the best sounding violin FOR ME?" Or, my child, friend, spouse, etc.

Listen to great violinist Rachel Barton Pine discuss the tonal differences between Stradivaris and Guarneri del Gesus.
So much depends on your personal taste and how you plan to use the instrument. I constantly tell clients "No one hears with your ears except yourself".

What kind of sound do you like? I think that should be the foremost factor. If you love the sound you're making you'll enjoy playing and your audience will know that. The opposite is also true. If you don't love the sound you're making, your audience will perceive that as well.

Violins can range in tonal quality from extremely bright like a Piccolo to very mellow (or dark) like a French Horn or a cello. What is your taste in sound?

Here's David Garrett playing Paganini's del Gesu violin, 'Il Canone'. Yes, it's really the violin that Paganini played. Rich, expressive, fairly demanding with a mellow, buttery sound.

There has been a myth among some players and teachers that a very bright violin will carry further. That is, if the violin is loud and bright under your ear, then it will project to the far reaches of a big hall. The reality is, the opposite is true. The purer the tone, the further the violin will carry. Very bright violins can produce a lot of overtones and less of the pure tone of the note you're playing. Overtones die off quickly leaving your bright sounding violin sounding like a $50 "internet special" by about the fourth row of the hall.

On the other hand, very mellow and dark sounding instruments may produce an unfocused tone that sounds "muddy" a few feet away from the player. Not a desirable effect either.

Those are the extremes. In between is a range of sound that can be beautiful and projecting. What type of sound do you like?

Listen to this Neuner & Hornsteiner violin. A very mellow violin!

For most students and progressing players, I recommend an instrument on the mellower side of the spectrum. It's easier to make yourself sound good, it's an easier sound to listen to, and it will serve you well in many settings including home, orchestra, and chamber group. And mellower instruments are more forgiving. If you're not EXACTLY precise in your intonation or bow control, a mellower instrument will still sound pretty good.

Are you a more advanced player? Have confidence in your vibrato, bow control,
and intonation? You might be ready for a brighter violin.

This is a video of Ruggero Allifranchini playing a wonderful violin by Amnon Weinstein. A very bright and demanding violin, but in the right hands, it sounds great!

Hilary Hahn gets a tremendous range of sound and tonality from an 1864 J.B. Vuillaume that's fairly bright. Of course, Hilary has wonderful technique and can get a wide range of expression. One of the odd things in instrument tonality is that with great bow technique and great vibrato you can make a bright instrument sound mellow and luscious, but it's very hard to make a mellow instrument sound bright.

David Oistrahk produced one of the clearest and richest sounds I've ever heard. His instrument, the 1705 'Marsick' Stradivarius was somewhat bright, but his technique (and wide fingers!) smoothed everything out to a generally mellow sound.

Anne Akiko Meyer is a violinist that I greatly admire for her artistic ability and wonderful musicianship. In this video, she's also accomplishing a great technical feat- recording and playing both parts of the Bach Double Violin Concerto on two different Stradivarius violins- the 'Ex-Molitor ' from 1697 and the 'Royal Spanish' from 1730. Both are great sounding violins! The ' Royal Spanish' is a mellower violin but seems to have a more penetrating tone. Can you tell which violin she's playing on which part? 

In just these few videos, you can hear a range of tonality. All are very good to unbelievably great violins. What is your taste? That will be "The Best Sounding Violin" for you.

I think that our Fine Violins sound and play the best in several price and quality ranges. Contact us if you're interested in purchasing a violin!

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