Do violins, like fine wines, get better with age?
A study conducted at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, tested two nearly identical violins to determine how a violin’s sound may change with playing and environmental changes over time.
In 2001, renowned violinmaker Harry Vatiliotis built the violins used in the experiment using wood from the same parts of the same trees. The two instruments underwent playing and listening tests in an acoustical lab to ensure that they were as similar as possible. Then, one made its home in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. The other went to musician Romano Crivici, who practiced and performed on it regularly.
Researchers predicted that likely causes for any changes in a frequently played violin would include the changing of parts by the player (replacing strings or adjusting the sound-post), age-related mechanical changes due to different environments and playing-related mechanical changes due to vibrations.
In the first set of tests, conducted just after the instruments were made, blindfolded players and a panel of listeners gave results denying any significant differences in sound. When tested three years later, again, participants reported no significant differences.
The researchers concluded that three years of playing in varying environmental conditions and three years of no play in a constant museum environmental make no substantial difference in sound. They do, however, recognize that three years is not enough time to make any broader conclusions. There are violins played today that are hundreds of years old.
More information about the study and sound clips can be found at http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/powerhousetwins.html.