Can pros detect the sound of a Strad? Double-blind study says no

Posted on: January 3, 2012

“What gives a violin made by Stradivari or Guarneri del Gesu its remarkable sound?” asks Nicholas Wade in Tuesday’s (1/3) New York Times. “Researchers have examined the wood preservatives, varnish, even the effects of the Little Ice Age on the density of wood, for anything that might explain the instruments’ almost magical properties. Claudia Fritz, an expert on the acoustic of violins at the University of Paris, has arrived at a different explanation for the secret. … ‘I don’t think there is any secret, except in people’s minds,’ she said.” For a double-blind study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, professional violinists compared “three high-quality modern violins with a Guarneri and two Stradivari instruments. … The violinists had to wear goggles so they could not identify the violins….  Despite a general belief among violinist that Stradivari and Guarneri violins are tonally superior, the participants in Dr. Fritz’s test could not reliably distinguish such instruments from modern violins. Only 8 of the 21 subjects chose an old violin as the one they’d like to take home. In the old-to-new comparison, a Stradivarius came in last and a new violin as the most preferred.” A related story on the NPR blog Deceptive Cadence offers for comparison two sound clips of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, one played on a Stradivarius violin and the other on a 1980 violin.

Posted January 3, 2012