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  • Writer's picture Sylvie Raynaud - Le Violon Rouge NZ

Are old violins better than new violins?

Updated: Jun 22

Old Violins vs New Violins
Violin Comparison

This is probably one of the biggest questions luthiers get asked all the time. From listening to thousands of violins and doing sound comparisons on instrument after instrument, I am more than comfortable to say that old violins do not necessarily sound better than new violins.

Scientists are still trying to understand what makes a violin sound good. One of the factors is that, the older the violin is, the less water is contained in the cells of the wood, which makes it more resonant. Another factor which isn’t fully understood yet, is how the wood reacts when it is affected over and over by the vibrations. Sometimes it seems like the violin has a memory and it already “knows” certain pieces of music, it is almost as if the violin itself is inviting the fingers of the violinist to move towards a specific sequence of notes to play a specific piece.

Old and new violins tend to have certain characteristics associated with each of them and a well-experienced hand and ear may be able to distinguish those differences. These are my experiences in terms of sound and playability.

New violins

- Tend to be a bit more balanced in volume in all registers from string to string.

- Will sound ‘raw’ and perhaps brighter in terms of overtones.

- May project further in terms of volume.

- Are very pliable executing sound from the bow arm.

- May have more inconsistencies with notes played in inharmonious scales not in the natural form of the violin such as Ab, F#, C# etc…

- New violins are less likely to have cracks, or develop cracks so generally speaking it is safer to handle.

Old violins

- Tend to be easier to play in tune as if they have developped a memory of the vibrational patterns. 

- Deliver more tonal colour.

- Respond better to softer playing.

- Have enhanced lower frequencies.

- Are generally sweeter and richer in tone.

- Are very resonant (in that you may get more than one unwanted wolf note up on the lowest string)

We can find some excellent and poor instruments in both new and old categories. Although 98% of the time, if a violin is made properly, it will improve upon its age. The sound will open up, be richer and more mature and can develop certain tonal colours, like fine wine or cheese.

At the end of day when looking for an instrument, if you're just concerned about the sound of the instrument, I would recommend exploring both old and new instruments. Play as many instruments as you can, build your mental repertoire of diversity of sound and playability until one day you will allow a violin to fall in love with you. 

Thank you for reading this article. It reflects one way of looking at the topic, I would love to hear about your own experiences and observations about old and new violins in the comments below.


John Soloninka
John Soloninka
Jun 21

Your post aligns with common wisdom over the last 100 years. But I think you will be fascinated by the detailed scientific evidence that points to it being easy to differentiate good violins from lesser violins, but it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for people (players, audience) to differentiate old from new. And this is excellent news for musicians and luthiers, and less good news for art investors and dealers. Check out the scientific articles and really interesting videos on exactly this topic.

 Sylvie Raynaud - Le Violon Rouge NZ
Sylvie Raynaud - Le Violon Rouge NZ
Jun 22
Replying to

Thank you for sharing John, very interesting.


Jun 19

It's also been my experience that old violins tend to be quite resonant, even when theyre not so great. I've also found that new violins can be just as resonant, if not more, but only in higher quality instruments. The 'fresh' wood seems to be less forgiving when it comes to resonance and tonal colour, but it is my experience, finding the brightness and energy of a new violin in an old one is far rarer. All things considered, I think old violins are more forgiving, but lack the 'punch' of a well made new instrument.

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