Sorry. I responded at 4:30 in the morning (my time), and I'd only had about four cups of coffee at that point... not nearly enough to be even semi-awake yet.
Well, my post was probably asking to be misunderstood no matter caffein levels amongst readers....
Carl Stross; I think the question really is whether the new instruments are looked upon with an unfair psychological disadvantage or not. Really, there can be little doubt that that is true, don't you agree? I have often the chance to play both prestigious italian instruments as well as good new ones. And I have noticed that by doing a small psychological trick of self-hypnosis I am able to find the same qualities in the best new ones as in the old ones. You just have to respect it, and really love it, before even playing it, and you will even start to overlook small imperfections that are usually enough to condemn any new instrument, as long as you are in your normal mental modus.
This is a beautiful mechanism in many ways, but it also have some negative consequences. One is that it creates the false impression that the old instruments are "unbeatable" out of some hidden technical reason, whilst the reason is really much more complex than that. Also, some people go on playing on "prestigious instruments" that are seriously out of adjustment for a long time, because they are so afraid to blame the instrument, so full of respect for the instrument that they tend to blame problems on themselves rather than the fiddle, even if it is seriously out of shape.