Instrument maker Keith Hill responded to Elatia's query related to Prasad's recent post on violin sounds. It failed to appear in the comments section (TypePad!). I am publishing Hill's opinion as an independent post.
This is the third time I have read about this interesting experiment, from three different sources.
The first thing I would say is that I have yet to encounter a great antique violin that has not been tampered with by repairmen over the last two centuries. Each instance of tampering degrades the quality of the sound. What we hear in the great old instruments is probably 75 - 80% of what they should sound like had their sound not been too degraded. So it is not so amazing that violinists may select a new violin.
I have noticed since the publication of my discovery (back in the 1980s) of Area Tuning in the old violins that a few of the best makers today are using that discovery. And when they have used it, they have figured out how to make it work...some perhaps even more successfully than I have. Still there was a great deal known by the 17th and 18th century violin makers about the art -- and it is an art (to contradict Mr. Hunt) -- of enhancing sound that we have yet to discover.
What makes the violin so challenging to puzzle out is its incredible complexity. To date, I have uncovered 22 distinct tuning systems in a violin and more than 113 acoustical adjustments to get a violin to exhibit the 34 criteria I have learned of from the great old violins. And that doesn't even include anything relating to the preparation and varnishing.
But my work has nothing to do with the modern science of acoustics, as practiced by many modern makers, because it is ear-oriented not eye-oriented. When I hear the sounds of the great antique violins what I hear is sounds that stir my soul because they sound like human voices. In art, the aspect of paradox is essential -- otherwise our senses are quickly sated. When I hear the work of modern makers, what I usually hear is loud violins that sound like loud violins (no paradox), having little sculptability (flexibility) and sounding tepid from the point of view of carrying power (intensity)
“Loud” doesn't necessarily have carrying power. I have made intense sounding clavichords that can fill a large concert hall--and a sound that is difficult to mold and sculpt isn't worth very much except to a mere technician. Intensity of sound and flexibility of sound are cardinal traits of an acoustically enhanced sound and must be tested for at a significant distance. At a distance of 100-300 feet the sound of most modern violins falls off and gets lost when accompanied by an orchestra. Whereas in this same test, the sound of the great antique violins blossoms, almost doubling in volume the further you are from the violin, and their exquisite timbre cuts through the sound of an entire orchestra to be heard distinctly over all the other competing sounds. These qualities are what the greatest musicians value most, according to my understanding. And these are what the violins made in Italy from 1600 to 1790 (give or take a few years) excel in.
Ease of playing was another trait the violinists in this experiment mentioned. However, it is my view that violins that are not acoustically enhanced for intensity and flexibility are easy to play because they are not subject to the distortion resistance effect that makes the sound difficult to start without whistling, an effect that Stradivari's violins are known for. The real trick is making a violin that is both flexible and intense to be, as well, easy to play -- so that the music flows out of the instrument, instantly following the will of the player. This assumes that the player is a true artist and has a will backed by real musical understanding.
Keith Hill - Instrument Maker