Be suspicious of instrument bling

If you are considering buying the newest, hottest instrument, accessory, gadget, etc., it’s worth asking yourself a few questions:

  • Is this item made out of materials that are usually used for fine jewelry or the dashboards of luxury cars?
  • How likely is it that the most visually-attractive materials also happen to have the ideal acoustical qualities? Is there really a good reason to believe that this particular material sounds better than other materials that happen to be less pretty and less expensive? Is there some reason to believe this couldn’t be made from practical and low-cost materials like steel or aluminum or oak or birch, or any of the incredible and endlessly varied synthetic materials?
  • Does the item come in a variety of materials at a variety of price points, with the most expensive materials being pushed as the best-sounding?
  • Does the marketing pitch sound like it might really be describing how the material looks, rather than sounds? “The brilliance of silver,” “the smooth dark sound of grenadilla,” “the rich sound of our proprietary gold alloy,” “the complex character of our highly-figured maple.”

You should use the instruments that work best for you. If precious metals and fragrant exotic woods make you happy and you can afford them, then you should have them. But be careful not to get caught up in a sales pitch that is more about bling than about real benefits.

4 thoughts on “Be suspicious of instrument bling”

  1. Spot on, Bret. This post reminded me of a certain woodwinds accessory company (who shall go unnamed here) that sells a ligature made primarily of string, with a minimum amount of metal parts (e.g., the screw). When I read about how the cryogenically treated gold parts “significantly” improve resonance and response (as opposed to the less expensive model, which has silver parts), I become a bit suspicious. And all this for a mere $200! Yeah, okay.

  2. Thanks for this, Bret. I know your article is talking more generally about what to watch for, but I’m curious what you think about the lefreQue “acoustic bridge”. The marketing sounds like exactly what you are describing, but it’s being endorsed by some heavyweights (yes, they might all be paid endorsements) and also by personal colleagues. I haven’t had a chance to try one out yet, and given your skepticism I thought you would have the most pragmatic opinion on the product.

    • I haven’t tried one and so can’t give any kind of informed review. But the concept seems sketchy to me, and certainly the emphasis on shiny jewelry metals is suspect.

      Most gadgets etc. that claim to emphasize or improve the vibrations of the instrument’s body seem to me to affect how the player hears themselves much more than how anyone else hears them. (See the Backus article listed in the notes of this old blog post for some good science on instrument body vibrations and their audibility.) However, if something affects the way I hear myself, then that might change the way I play (which someone else can definitely hear).

      • Your statement that “Most gadgets etc. that claim to emphasize or improve the vibrations of the instrument’s body seem to me to affect how the player hears themselves much more than how anyone else hears them” is right on, in my experience, and better stated than I’ve been able to articulate. I play with another gadget on my instrument (not a LefreQue, but a previous “fad” from about 15 years ago). It works great for me. Do I sound different to my audience? Not sure, but it makes ME feel like a million bucks when I play. It may be a placebo effect, but if the end result is a performance I’m happy with, it’s worth it to me. I don’t push them on my students, as I’d rather they put a couple hundred into repairs or upgrades rather than the latest trend.

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