People often say "they
don't make ‘em like they used to", referring to products
with a sense of helplessness as if consumers are always the
victims of modern industrial "progress" and of the ruthless
quest for higher profits.
But is this really true?
Economics expert George Soros states that the so-called
"market forces", which shape the products we purchase are
often the result of imperfect knowledge, a condition which
allows the genesis of an improbable plurality of "truths".
How consumers often
dictate the path that manufacturers must take - instead of
the popularly believed opposite - is quite clear in the
field of string instrument cases. The number one preference
of the majority of musicians when comparing cases
(especially in Europe and the Far East) is that they must be
as light as possible. Secondly, as cheap as possible.
Certainly, style and finish plays a part, but the weight (or
better, the lack of it) is often the factor which promotes
one product line to success and dooms another to commercial
The degree to which the
issue of instrument safety is ignored by some professional
musicians is simply astonishing. One world-class soloist - I
won't mention the name, but you all know it - asked for an
appointment in our showroom to see our cases. When this
person arrived I was appalled to see that she kept her Strad
in a cheap styrofoam case that would collapse if your
pressed your thumb on the lid. Yet, I was unable to convince
her to purchase even our lower-priced Ultraleggero Royale
with Tropicalization - she preferred another brand simply
because, and I quote, "it was 100 Euros cheaper". But does
it really make sense to purchase a cheaper, suspension-less,
un-insulated, un-humidified case for a Stradivari, just to
save 100 Euros? Especially when those 100 Euros are easily
the hourly cost of the chauffer-driven luxury car in which
this famous soloist arrived?
This trend has prompted
many manufacturers to obediently cut corners in all phases
of production in order to achieve new records of lightness
and cheapness, but as a result many instrument restorers are
repairing cello neck breakage or soundpost cracks when "the
case simply fell over", and violins are reduced to
smithereens when the owner, slipping on an icy sidewalk,
topples onto the case and flattens it. That's quite a
departure from the purpose of a case: the word "case", in
Italian, is in fact custodia, which derives from the
verb custodire, or "to take care of".
Of course, I'm not
advocating the same precautions that the City of Genoa
adopted until a few years ago, transporting the 1742
Guarneri del Gesù of Paganini fame inside a pressurized
container the size of a refrigerator, designed to outlive a
plane crash. But more than one concertmaster carries his
Strad in a oblong case made of silk-lined styrofoam which
will disintegrate at the slightest provocation. This is not
only an unnecessary risk for the owner, but an irresponsible
attitude towards the safeguarding of a work of art which
morally belongs to humanity in toto, and not just to
a fortunate individual.
manufacture may have little in common with quantum
mechanics, yet Heisenberg's principle - the mere observation
of a given phenomenon is enough to influence it - could help
change this mentality. For example, if respected and
impartial publications tested and compared cases for safety
features in order to draw the readers' attention to the
subject of instrument safety. Insurance companies as well
could aid by offering lower premiums to the owners of
important instruments who use cases with determined
characteristics, thus incentivating the use of safer cases
and probably ending up reducing the recourse to costly
damage settlements in the process.
But most importantly, it is you, the musician, who can change
things if the issue of instrument safety is generally
awarded the status of importance it deserves.
This is therefore a
golden chance for consumers to force manufacturers to make
better products. Simply by choosing those cases which better
protect the instrument will spur research and development of
product lines in this direction. Convex instead of flat
cello case bottoms, for example, or suspension pads
installed in rigid, torsion-resistant cases make a
difference. Dogmatic acceptance of the fact that, today,
2.5- 3 kg of raw material is needed for a quality, safe
oblong violin case, and any case weighing much less just
won't do. Added safety however doesn't necessarily mean
added weight: it's just a question of rearranging
manufacturers' priorities and concentrating resources in the
proper direction, and higher-quality manufacture, new
materials and techniques of construction will follow in
order to offer the public what it needs.
incidentally, safeguarding the world's treasures of lutherie
for the enjoyment of future generations.
thank you for your attention.