How centuries of branding inflated the value of Stradivarius instruments to $45M : Planet Money Many music aficionados will tell you that violins and violas made by legendary craftsman Antonio Stradivari represent the pinnacle of the instruments. But what if it's all just an example of really good branding? | Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

Is a Stradivarius just a violin? (Classic)

Is a Stradivarius just a violin? (Classic)

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Stradivarius instruments can sell for many millions of dollars. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images hide caption

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Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Stradivarius instruments can sell for many millions of dollars.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Note: This episode originally aired in May, 2014.

Violins and violas are like living, breathing things. Many are hand-crafted with wood from a tree. Each one is different. And you know the story – Antonio Stradivari was the master. Some say he was the greatest maker of stringed instruments ever to live. The Stradivarius is one of the most powerful and expensive brands in the world.

Certainly, the guy made really nice instruments. But ... how nice, exactly?

This is a question that comes up all the time with all kinds of products: Coffee, clothes, dishwashing detergent, jeans, shoes. How much of the premium of a brand is quality? And how much is in our heads?

Of course, you could do a test with a Stradivarius to answer this exact question. See whether people can tell the difference between the sound of a Strad and the sound of a cheaper, less famous violin. And in fact, in 2010, researchers did just that.

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