The sound of Burgess' instruments is usually targeted toward that of the world's great concert instruments. This can create a problem. Many people have never played these instruments, and have set their standards according to the sound of lesser instruments they have played. Adding to this is the fact that the technique developed to make the best of lesser instruments isn't necessarily what works best on a concert quality instrument. It's disheartening to see someone who is accustomed to a cheap viola sawing away, close to the fingerboard on a really great viola, and making a horrible sound. A great instrument can be played with a slow bow, close to the bridge, producing a huge sound without a great deal of work. If you watch a great player with a lot of experience trying different instruments, you'll notice that at first they experiment, quickly finding the "sweet spot", how to optimize that particular instrument. The whole process can take only seconds.
A good analogy might be made with stepping out of your family car and into a Ferrari. Things might not go very well at first. You might stall the engine. You might not be able to shift smoothly. You might not understand what all the gages are for. But once you learn to use the capabilities of this car, you will be able to do things with ease and grace that were utterly impossible in your family car.
This brings up another subject; how much work is involved in playing an instrument. When trying instruments, musicians usually play them for each other. We've already discussed how a limited technique can affect the outcome, but there's another factor which is inherent in the skills of being a musician and therefore difficult to overcome. Musicians learn to play at a certain volume. If a passage is mezzo-forte, that's how they tend to make it come out. If a fiddle is weak, they play harder until they hear mezzo-forte. If the fiddle is powerful, they don't work as hard, and the outcome is still mezzo-forte. If you're auditioning instruments, pay close attention to how hard the player is working, whether the player is you or someone else.
I have also observed over the years that when people are looking for a new instrument, they will usually make changes in only small increments from what they are used to. In other words, they will choose an instrument which is a little bit better than what they have been playing, but reject the instrument that is a lot better because it's too unfamiliar. If you have a chance, I would invite you to compare the sound, not with the instrument you're moving up from, not with your friend's twenty thousand dollar instrument, and not with another friend's hundred thousand dollar instrument, but with the one of the worlds truly great concert instruments.
Given the choice, Burgess prefers to make "high performance" instruments, instruments with a full, robust sound with a lot of depth, but also with a lot of edge under the ear. This "edge" offers several advantages: It makes it easier to hear yourself when playing in an ensemble or orchestra, providing strong intonation cues for the player; if you are a soloist, it provides a character to the sound which helps cut through an ensemble or orchestra. This won't be heard by the audience as the "edge" that the player hears, but as a rich, very focused sound. It can be compared to the singing voice that opera singers use, quite different from their normal speaking voice, but much more effective at being heard over the orchestra. If you are primarily a quartet player and need to "blend", let us know, because we'll need to do something a little different.
Burgess can make instruments with a wide range of sounds, from instruments where the priority is ease of playing without a lot of work for musicians who play long sessions, to instruments that are designed to kick a at the far end of a hall; instruments with a silky upper string, and instruments with an upper string that screams; some with a big boomy sound, and some with a tight, focused sound. Describing sound is very difficult, and if you are sent an instrument based on your description of what you like in sound, you need to understand that while this could be exactly the right instrument for you, it could be also be just a starting point. If it's not what you want, you don't want to give up yet, because something very important has been put in place. At this point we have a "control", an instrument we have both heard that can be the basis for more detailed discussion and a much higher probability of another attempt being successful.
The best thing, of course, is getting together. We try to keep several sample instruments on hand with sound spanning a wide range. Try to bring an instrument which you think has a great sound, or at least comes close. With these tools, we should be able to come up with something that suits you, and sounds great.
For more information about Burgess violins, violas and cellos, contact David Burgess at:
1510 Glen Leven; Ann Arbor, MI 48103 U.S.A.
Phone: (734) 668-7803
Burgess Violin Maker Main Web Site: http://www.burgessviolins.com
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