Double-Blind Violin Test: Can You Pick The Strad?: NPR
In the world of violins, the names Stradivari and Guarneri are sacred. For three centuries, violin-makers and scientists have studied the instruments made by these Italian craftsmen. So far no one has figured out what makes their sound different. But a new study now suggests maybe they aren’t so different after all.
OK, here’s a test. Clip one is a musical phrase from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Clip two is the same phrase. The same musician plays both. But one is on a Stradivarius violin, the other on a violin made in 1980. See if you can tell the difference.
It’s a tough choice. But a professional violinist could tell the difference, right?
Well, a research team recently tried to find out. They gathered professional violinists in a hotel room in Indianapolis. They had six violins — two Strads, a Guarneri and three modern instruments. Everybody wore dark goggles so they couldn’t see which violin was which.
Then the researchers told the musicians: These are all fine violins and at least one is a Stradivarius. Play, then judge the instruments.
Joseph Curtin, a violin-maker from Michigan, was one of the researchers. “There was no evidence that people had any idea what they were playing,” he says. “That really surprised me.”
Curtin says of the 17 players who were asked to choose which were old Italians, “Seven said they couldn’t, seven got it wrong, and only three got it right.”
Claudia Fritz designed the experiment. She’s an acoustics physicist from France’s National Center for Scientific Research — and a flute player, by the way. She says this test was more rigorous than previous ones because it was “double-blind” — no one knew which instrument was which until after the test. That rules out the kind of bias that might creep in when a musician judges an instrument he or she knows is 300 years old and maybe played by someone like Fritz Kreisler or Henryk Szeryng.
And this experiment asked seasoned violin players, not listeners, to choose.