New vs. Old Instrument

Does a New or Old instrument sound better?

Boesendorfer Piano

Boesendorfer Piano

I believe it’s every musician’s dream to own an astonishingly great crafted instrument such as a Bösendorfer, Steinway, Stradivari, Bergonzi, or Gadliano. And as a violinist myself, I can only dream to be able to feel the body of an Italian handmade Stradivari violin and maybe, just maybe, to gently pluck one of its strings to enjoy the legendary father of perfection and that astounding sound.

Red "Mendelssohn" Violin by Antonio Stradivari  My favorite

Red “Mendelssohn” Violin by Antonio Stradivari
My favorite


I was educated that an older string instrument was much better than a new one because the wood needs the vibration coming from the string to break it in.  On the contrary, it’s brand new instruments when it comes piano, and it needs to be black, 6’ or 7’ foot grand piano.  Restored Steinway piano has never been on my purchase list. J

I was ecstatic when this research article was released. The researcher’s finding definitely gives younger generation players a hope and great encouragement to carry on with their passion about music knowing that they can make great sound whether they play on a $2M of Stradivari violin or a $1000 student violin.


The study was led by Dr. Fritz, a flautist and a musical acoustics researcher and his research team at Piere and Marie Curie University in Paris. The concept was not to deny the work and sound of the maestros Stradivari or Guarneri del Gesu, or many other great instruments makers nor to promo new modern instruments as better than the older ones. It just simply wanted to show all the soloists that everyone can generate an astounding sound regardless of the value or the age of the violin. The research procedures were to ask 21 players at the International Competition, Indiana 2010, to blindfold their eyes and play 3 old instruments and 3 new instruments and record the observation. The results were “Thirteen chose a new violin as their favorite; the least favorite of the six was a Stradivarius, researchers reported.” And the newest study had 10 professional violin soloists with 75 minutes in a rehearsal room, and 75 minutes in a 300 seat Concert Hall, using their own favorite bow. The result was astounding: 6 soloists choose newer violins in the concert hall because of the loud, assertive sound that projected over the orchestra.


Paganini Quartet by Antonio Stradivari

Paganini Quartet by Antonio Stradivari

I wouldn’t be surprised and agree with the research speculation as to why a soloist would give a higher rating to new instruments. When you play as a soloist with an orchestra, you do want your violin to be able to project sound over the orchestra, and a new instrument is usually easier to do so than an older instrument.

In truth, there are many elements involved in constructing an astounding, vibrant sound. First, what kind of SOUND do you enjoy from a string instruement, the type of string used, the bow, the hair on the bow, varnish, rosin, and the most important part “the technique of bowing”.

I remember a few years back, my husband decided to ditch his violin and turn into a cellist, and he is big fan of new instruments. I didn’t find his new cello’s sound Paul's cellofascinating, in fact, I was wondering how he can practice with an instrument that sounded so rustic, crispy, loud, no color in the tone. But, the exact same cello with student grade bow sounded like a centuries old Strad cello when his cello teacher played it. Up until today, the sound from the Bach suite played on the same cello still lives in my memory, ringing in my ear.

As a violinist myself, we have 3 violins in the household. One is a 100+ years old German handmade Stradivari style, one is a 15-20 years old by Sigrun Seifert, a top American Violin maker, and the third is a $100 fitting T.G. Pfretzschner German made student violin. Each of them has a different brand and type of string, different quality of pegs, sound bridge, varnish, and of course with different bows on each violin; in addition, each using different grade rosin as well.

After I read the articles, I went back to dig out my $100 student violin, and I played on it with my current bow, it sounded different than I remember (15-20 year ago was the last time I played on it), and I sort of like it, not yet falling in love, it’s loud, crispy but it has the rich, deep sound hidden in the back waiting for discovery.  Perhaps, my son will able to bring out its true beautiful sound once he is ready for a full size violin. ☺

I will reveal what I did with my other two violins to transform the sound into the sound that my ears enjoy.

Student Violin by T.G. Pfretzschner

Student Violin by T.G. Pfretzschner

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