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Violin Confusion

January 24, 2012

The Stradivarius is the violin by which all others are judged. But does it deserve its reputation?

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

A case of violin confusion…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(Clip of classical piece)

Top violinists often love the chance to play old instruments from famous makers like Stradivarius and Guarneri. And the mystique surrounding these instruments is reflected in their sometimes astronomical prices. For instance, a Stradivarius built in 1721 sold for nearly 16 million dollars at auction last year. But do these instruments really sound better? Psychoacoustician Claudia Fritz of the National Center for Scientific Research in France had 21 world-class violinists play both old and new instruments while blindfolded. She and her team then asked them which instruments they liked best and to estimate the age of the violins.

CLAUDIA FRITZ (National Center for Scientific Research in France):

We couldn’t find any clear preference for old instruments, and people can’t tell whether it’s old or not. 8

HIRSHON:

She says when musicians can see that an instrument is old, they’re biased into thinking it sounds better, and often blame themselves if it doesn’t. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.