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ispirati

Soaking the tonewood in water

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Anyone here soak their tonewood in water before drying it?

Recently, I keep hearing different maker using this *wood treatment*. The rationale comes from the fact that the old Cremonese wood was transported in the river. Hence the wood was soaked for a certain period of time before it was dried. Supposely, this process will change the property of the wood. But today, the wood is cut and milled on the spot. Then transported in smaller pieces.

Does it really make any difference to the tone? Any one care to comment?

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"Anyway, there are logs from the late 1800's early 1900's that sank from log rafts on lake Michigan which are being raised and sold to high end manufacturers because the wood has the tight even straight grain than modern grown lumber lacks due to faster growth varieties etc."

How much straighter and tighter could the grain of the typical tight-grained tree that is harvested these days for tonewood be?

Sounds like more hyperbole to me....

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Hi,

It is true that many of the building trade timber used to be floated down the rivers, not only in Italy, but wherever a river was available, however I very much doubt if Stradivari would have let his carefully chosen tree get anywhere near water!

The timber that is floated down rivers is freshly felled and will take on very little water.

I think the secret of the old makers wood was: choosing it well, felling the tree at the right time, splitting and seasoning it in the right place.

The hardwoods used to be cut in meter lenghts, split in half or quarters, and sold for firewood. It is possible that the old masters got their best figured maple very cheap, because it was useless as firewood!

Cheers Wolfjk

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Ispirati:

If it's that the 100 or 200 year old wood is just better because it's virgin old growth than submerging new (young) wood in water for any number of years isn't going to change it into virgin old growth timber. It's going to be waterlogged, new timber.

If it's the submerging that's the key, then are you going to submerge it for 100 years like Peter's wood was? Or try and guess how long Strad's wood may have been submerged, and in what conditions (in running water, in stagnant water, etc), and duplicate that.

I'm not convinced this is the secret, if there is a secret.

But I'd suggest you get some of the same wood Peter used and let us know how it turns out. :-)

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I have a bunch of samples of the soaked stuff, and it's just very nice fine-grained old growth wood that smells funny. Tonally it's the same as similar quality woods of the same species which haven't been soaked forever, IMO.

Admittedly I haven't built an instrument from it, but wood has sound and response even before you carve it up.

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I certainly can't see any reason why figured maple wouldn't make good firewood!!!

One story abut how old wood was harvested was that they would girdle a tree and cause it to die standing, then return the following year and cut it down. The advantage was that the wood did not get stained from lying on the forest floor was light, having dried in the standing position. In addition there are some folks that believe that wood harvested in such a manner was lighter and stiffer .

I have my doubts about using 'sinker wood' to make fiddle tops. I usually try to find lighter weight wood and I don't know of any violinmaker that deliberately seeks out the heaviest wood possible which is what this sinker wood is. The sinker spruce would be about 3-4 times!! the density of the spruce I'm using for my current instrument-that's a huge difference!

Oded Kishony

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I think this water soaking is red herring.

It is well known that a drop of water applied to the inside of an old Cremona belly remains as a bead. A similar drop applied to anyone else's belly wood soaks in indicating that the Cremonese gave the wood some treatment that waterproofed it. No amount of soaking in water will have this effect.

I agree with Seth Leigh and seriously doubt that soaking was the secret. If there was a 'secret' this waterproofing treatment created anistropy in the fibers and rendered them less susceptible to aging effects.

Of course, superb workmanship and a forgotten approach to plate tuning probably helped.

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Do the experiment, then you will have the first-hand experience. This is a fairly complicated project. (1) The process: the substances to be deposited in the wood. (2) The effect on the long-term stability of wood. (3) Section the wood and examine it in EM. (4)Effect on mechanical/acoustic properties of wood. This project should be sufficient to write a lengthy post-graduate thesis.

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Hi, OK,

------I certainly can't see any reason why figured maple wouldn't make good firewood!!!-----

You will never know until you try!!! One reason is that maple does not burn well, the other is that figured maple is almost impossible to split when dry, and would not fit into the stoves they used without chopping up.

One thing no one mentioned yet is that wood less than the specific weight of water would not sink without being weighted down or stuck in the mud!

However, I remember wheelrights floating elm logs in the village ponds for two or three years before they turned them into wheel hobs. The idea was that after soakin the wood would have many hairline, or larger cracks in it, so when the cart went through the fords in dry weather the crack would hold the water and stop the wheels drying out and becoming slack. A long way from what we want from tonewoods!

Cheers Wolfjk

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Glen posted:

"Of course, superb workmanship and a forgotten approach to plate tuning probably helped."

First off, I’m not trying to be insulting by saying what I have to say here. I am genuinely curious why you would think this.

Superb workmanship of course, but the whole point to a thread like this is to determine whether or not a soaking procedure is (or is not) the or a "lost secret" of the old Italian makers.

Your idea about a "lost plate tuning method" represents another avenue of thought altogether.

While I believe that the "soaking in water" idea is incorrect, I have to add that I believe that a "lost plate tuning method" is even less likely to be the missing ingredient for the apparent superiority of "golden era" violins.

Of course, we are all just talking here, going round and round about the unknowable and unprovable as we always do when this particular subject comes up, but the whole idea for ‘plate tuning’ seems to be a modern idea that we cannot really make work even today, and I'm wondering what evidence there is that the old school used one, or even thought in that direction?

I have talked extensively with some of the members of the group that thinks that Strad bent his plates, and have heard all of their reasoning - but I think that they are merely seeing what they want to see and ignoring the reality of what the evidence says. I'm not lumping you or your thinking in with them, but I think you may well be succumbing to the same type of trap of simply adopting an idea simply because it has a certain amount of inner logic. Sort of like saying that since I don’t know what was going on, then it had to have been some sort of plate tuning. Am I incorrect in thinking this?

That the wood may have undergone some sort of "procedure" before the varnishing process but after the felling process seems the most likely missing thing to me. Some process that was most likely a common woodworking technique of the day. Maybe connected with the ground, but maybe separate from those considerations altogether.

I have a hard time placing a lost plate tuning process, especially in the context of that period.

Could you please explain a bit why you think as you do ?

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I split a lot of wood and burn it in my fireplace, Seems to me that maple burns just fine :-)

The soaking thing is tricky to tease out-I believe that some researchers have looked at Cremonese wood microscopically and have not found any evidence of ponding- such evidence might be aquatic micro-organisms (skeletal reamains) or mineral deposits typical of ponding. Another approach taken by some modern VMs that have ponded their wood and made instruments from this wood and to my knowledge there has not been any great enthusiasm for the results of this. My personal belief is that the most likely explanation for the Cremonese sound is a combination of construction techniques, a long tradition of trial and error, the results of which were passed through families and students, which may include varnish/sealer formulations and tuning techniques now partially lost. And let's not forget enormous talent!!!

No one askes why it is that Mozart wrote such great music by examining the paper he used or the quill and ink he wrote with, we all understand that it was his genious that created the music. The same can be said of Strad.

Oded Kishony

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"One reason is that maple does not burn well, the other is that figured maple is almost impossible to split when dry,"

You've never heated with wood, I can see.

Regarding tuning, I will certainly want to know who the guy was who regraduated all of those del Gesus and is therefore responsible for the way they sound. With all of the stuff that's been done to most 300 year old violins, I don't think there's a snowball's chance in Cancun that enough tuning has survived to account for anything.

Plate bending (at least relative to old Cremonese practice) falls squarely in the "silly idea" corner--there's loads of evidence that clearly contradicts that. Some people have felt that it works for modern violins, but the only demo I've seen was in a hall before a bunch of people. The player kept commenting on how great the violin sounded compared to the old one he was comparing it to, but I would say that about 30 of the volume and quality of the sound he was claiming to hear didn't make it out into the hall: the failure of the bent violin was embarassingly total. That's only one instance. . . but it did make me wonder if any positive effects were entirely in the short range.

I'm in the wood treatment camp, simply since the wood seems to be the only thing left on a lot of great fiddles that persist in remaining great.

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ctviolin - no insult taken.

I know the thread relates to soaking and I said what I thought about that so I just left a little tease with a smiley face.

Michael Darnton seems to agree that some other form of wood treatment might be a more profitable line of debate if only because it left the old Cremona wood in such a beautiful condition. Saccone described it as ossification; the wood appears transformed to ivory with a grain indifferent to the direction of any cutting blade.

Whether this is reponsible for exceptional tonal properties is a logical jump I am not prepared to make (yet) but it may be a more fruitful avenue to pursue than soaking.

I am happy to leave the tuning issue to another thread but since Michael commented on it I feel obliged to respond here.

I have long been intrigued by the pointed calipers in the Stadivari collection and the speculation, by authorities greater than me, that they were reponsible for the 'third peg' in many classic instruments. The speculation being that this device held the plate at the accoustic center while the plate was tuned.

If correct, and coupled with the observation that Stradivari didn't use this method, he must have had some other method of tuning.

Whatever the truth of the matter, I have to believe that the plates were tuned in some way. Given the significance of tuning in lutherie today, I can't believe it is a purely modern approach of which the old makers were entirely ignorant.

Now, to Michael's bombshell. Were you suggesting that there was one person who systematically regraduated del Gesus or was this just a way of saying that most del Gesus have been regraduated and this is what is responsible for their tone today?

Having experienced many times the startling improvements that can be brought about by a good 'setter upper' a large part of me believes that the superior qualities of classic instruments has little to do with the original makers and everything to do with the intelligent 'tweaks' they have received over the centuries. Everything has been harmonized by judicious optimization of bridge, bass bar, soundpost, neck angle etc - the pampered grooming of the prize poodle.

As the audio tapes in another thread clearly demonstrate, the accoustic differences we are talking about are really not that great.

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"Now, to Michael's bombshell. Were you suggesting that there was one person who systematically regraduated del Gesus or was this just a way of saying that most del Gesus have been regraduated and this is what is responsible for their tone today?"

My intent is to point out that IF graduation and tuning are what makes a Strad a Stad and a del Gesu a del Gesu, and since most del Gesus have been regraduated, and since people agree that they have a common sound, therefore, one person must have done all the regraduation, and be the person responsible for their tone, which is a suggestion that I don't find credible. Therefore, their tonal qualities must result from something other than graduation (and the conclusion is unavoidable: from something other than tuning).

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"One reason is that maple does not burn well..."

Compared to what??

Coal or maybe Mountain Mahogany??...

"...the other is that figured maple is almost impossible to split when dry..."

Again, untrue...

It splits exactly the same as dry unfigured maple...

A tad more difficult than green figured or unfigured wood, but certainly not "almost impossible"...

Makes for an interesting-sounding story, though...

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Quote:

"Anyway, there are logs from the late 1800's early 1900's that sank from log rafts on lake Michigan which are being raised and sold to high end manufacturers because the wood has the tight even straight grain than modern grown lumber lacks due to faster growth varieties etc."

How much straighter and tighter could the grain of the typical tight-grained tree that is harvested these days for tonewood be?

Sounds like more hyperbole to me....


And anyway, does it really matter that the wood has tight grain? I thought it was pretty much accepted that at least for the top, tighter grain isn't necessarily better.

I must say, Peter builds great fiddles and the sunken wood looks really handsome on his instruments but as a player I prefer the violin of his that I own, which he constructed using standard tonewoods, to the 2 or 3 of his I've played that use the sunken wood. -Steve

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I agree with Seth and Glen. The two species, (at least), of pine that Stradivari used were of a rather strong and hard density. Sacconi calls the application of a diluted coat of the base or ground varnish to the inside of Stradivari's instruments, "ossification", by which he means the wood was made harder. He also says that two thicker coats were applied to the very thin ribs to help strengthen them.

My personal obsevations are these:

1. I do not see how the wood can be made harder, but I do see how the application of a very thin base coat of varnish could help seal the wood. This would assist in the too rapid absorption of moisture brought about by sudden changes in temperature and humidity. I believe this would in essence "stabilize" the internal moisture content of the wood.

2. I have opened more than one violin which I believe was made by Antonio Stradivari, and found inside a detectable coating of a substance. When one applies a cloth dampened with a mild solution of vinegar and water to clean the soiled interior of some of these instruments, the liquid will not be absorbed, if the interior of the violin has not been tampered with beforehand.

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Hey Michael,

>>> IF graduation and tuning are what makes a Strad a Stad and a del Gesu a del Gesu, and since most del Gesus have been regraduated, and since people agree that they have a common sound, therefore, one person must have done all the regraduation, <<<

Here's my explanation that I think covers all your objections: the tuning was not done to the plates but rather to the unfinished instrument in the white from the outside. There's certainly plenty of tool marks on the exterior of Del Gesu violins that are under the varnish. So, when the tuning was done from the exterior it also altered the arching. Later, when the butchers came along and regraduated they removed wood in a generally uniform way from swaths of area rather than distinct small area as a tuning process might entail -therefore the tuning survived the regraduation. That's why all the Del Gesu violins sound so similar despite the likelihood that they were regraduated by different people.

Oded Kishony

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Quote:

I have long been intrigued by the pointed calipers in the Stadivari collection and the speculation, by authorities greater than me, that they were reponsible for the 'third peg' in many classic instruments. The speculation being that this device held the plate at the accoustic center while the plate was tuned.

Quote:

The calipers were used to determine the final thickness of the wood. No great secret there. Any wood worker knows that. Thin the wood too much, the sound of the tap tone becomes too dull. Leave it too thick, the sound of the tap tone is too bright. A happy medium must be obtained, and the Hill measurements prove that Stradivari varied his thicknessess only slightly. In the belly, they were left the same thickness all over. Sacconi wrote that the belly must act as a membrane, and for it to work properly, it must be the same thickness all over. That to me, is very sound, logical analysis, and I think cannot be disproven by anyone, no matter how much they know, or how much they think they know.

The 'third peg', is an interesting topic also. Andrea Amati obviously taught this method of finding the 'final thickness' to both his sons. The 1604 fratelli Amati fiddle, taken care of by Dr. Andre Larsen, has a peg in it's back. Nicolo Amati, son of Jerome, certainly taught his apprentices how to do it. Joseph del Gesu did it at least one time, there is a peg in the 1743 Il Cannone. Some say Stradivari did not use a peg, I don't know about that...

I do know this.....I am the person who asked Dr. Andre Larsen, curator of the National Music Museum in South Dakota, to photograph, in it's entirety, the 1604 A&H Amati violin.

He did just that, and compiled the pictures on a CD ROM, which will provide for many of those who search for knowledge, a treasure chest full of facts so that you can see for yourself. Ed Campbell, "The Chimney's" told me about it, and urged me to contact Dr. Larsen in the first place. Check it out.....

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