Episode 538: Is A Stradivarius Just A Violin? : Planet Money How much of a brand is real? How much is in our heads?
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Episode 538: Is A Stradivarius Just A Violin?

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Episode 538: Is A Stradivarius Just A Violin?

Episode 538: Is A Stradivarius Just A Violin?

Episode 538: Is A Stradivarius Just A Violin?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/482936331/483128087" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
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 to ever live. The Stradivarius is one of the most powerful and expensive brands in the world.

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

David Aaron Carpenter plays the 'Macdonald' Stradivarius viola at Sotheby's auction house for NPR in April, 2014. Manya Zuba/NPR hide caption

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Manya Zuba/NPR

David Aaron Carpenter plays the 'Macdonald' Stradivarius viola at Sotheby's auction house for NPR in April, 2014.

Manya Zuba/NPR

This is a question that comes up all the time with all kinds of products: Coffee, clothes, dish washing detergent, jeans, shoes. How much of a brand is real? 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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