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The Magic of Old Instruments

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On this forum and others we often talk about the "magic" of old horns. I have personally used the "m" word to describe the tone of the old, British-built Bessons. The reasons are many. No doubt materials, design, and construction methods enter into it. Age is also a factor. I've heard (from a very knowledgeable source) that a twisty brass instrument could have stresses at joints if not enough time is taken to make sure the metal is happy in its new configuration. The longer the horn exists, the more the metal could relax. I think playing also helps, probably because the vibrations contribute to the process. I even wonder if my Minnesota weather matters, considering the horn can spend considerable time in a car that is over 100 degrees inside or near zero degrees inside.

This debate can lead some to wonder if an old horn might be more desirable. Today I just got around to a Popular Science article that has been sitting near my chair for weeks. It has to do with the magic of the Stradivarius stringed instruments. They tried to do some double-blind tests, although this type of thing is difficult to tie down.

Below is an extended quote from the article. I boldfaced a part that probably relates directly to our brass world.

That prompted Curtin and Claudia Fritz, who studies psychoacoustics at the Sorbonne in Paris, to conduct a double-blind study. In 2010, 21 soloists meeting in Indianapolis for an international competition donned dark welding goggles, and each played two Stradivariuses, a Guarneri, and three modern violins.

Thirteen of them preferred new instruments, and seven liked one of the Strads least of all. The two researchers drew criticism for their methods, which included holding the test in a hotel room. So the pair ran a more rigorous study: in Paris in 2012 involving six violins crafted by Italian masters (five of them Strads) and six by present-day luthiers. They used new instruments that were weathered to appear old, and the 10 professional soloists once again wore goggles. Each used their own bow while playing during 7S-minute sessions in a rehearsal space and a small concert hall. Six preferred the sound of the modern models. On average, the musicians favored the playability, articulation, and projection of contemporary violins, and none could identify the Strads with better than coin-toss accuracy.

"We have yet to find that players can discern old from new," Curtin says. That, of course, does not diminish the quality of Stradivari's masterpieces, or his contributions to the art of making violins. "I don't have one whit less reverence for his work," Curtin says. "I am challenging the assumption that they are necessarily better-sounding than modern instruments."
(From Popular Science, print edition, Winter 2019, page 63. Article is "The Song of the Immortal Violin" by Chuck Squatriglia.

Updated 12-26-2019 at 07:01 PM by davewerden

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