Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Does age matter?


joerobson
 Share

Recommended Posts

My personal conclusion, and it may seem a cop-out, is that The Cremonese Masters were just that: masters at their craft; perhaps the best the world has ever seen.

Did they understand anything about the technical aspects of what they did? Who knows? Since they left no written treatises explaining their methods, and world-views, we may as well ask a buzzard if he understands Bernoulli's principle. Or ask a fish about water...

All we really have to go on is what they actually accomplished, and we do our best to discern how it works. I remember reading how when the principles of aeronautics, aerodynamics, etc. were still being hashed out, they discovered that according to their rules, etc. a bumblebee should not be able to fly (given weight to area of wing, etc.).

Fortunately they had the sense not to argue with the bumblebee about the issue. (Or maybe they tried, but she couldn't handle the math, so she flew away...) My point is, they had the sense to recognize the facts did not fit the theory, so, rather than mangling the facts, they reconsidered the theory, and found their error. Turns out the bumblebee was OK to start with (glad you approve!)

It seems that, in the absence of the old Masters, we have to work the same way the early pioneers in flight worked-- observing the silent witness of the gulls, etc.-- and asking, "How does it work?"

That is what everyone is doing, and I think it has paid off. But maybe that is just the coffee talking...

Wonderfully stated, Chet - keep drinking that java!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I recall seeing in a previous thread on this topic that the process of chemical changes in the wood that has an effect on the sound takes place very slowly, something like a small fraction of an inch of wood thickness every hundred years. This is from my memory of the earlier thread so it might be confused. Anyhow that's why simply using a 500 year old beam from a building doesn't yield the same kind of aged wood that results from the aging of (thin) wood already made into a violin. The properly changed wood in the beam is only a thin layer on the surface which is mostly lost during the violinmaking.

Of course this doesn't answer Joe's question at the beginning of this thread. He asked if simply surviving to a great age makes the instrument sound better (my italics). It needn't have sounded good when new, nor would it need to sound good when old, just better than when new. The good instruments of Stradivari and Guarneri probably did sound good when they were new but maybe not as good as they do now.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From what I've read of the few double-blind tests that have been done, people can't really differentiate old quality italians from quality new instruments and often prefer the sound of the new instrument to the old ones. If age is doing very much then the old italians must have started off worse. To me at least, it seems like age isn't doing enough to worry about.

Absolutely right. I can't possibly agree more...

...Sorry, who's "people" ?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Independent of all other factors...maker, set-up, varnish, form, played, not played, everything else....

Is the sound of an instrument better simply because it survives to great age?

pondering,

Joe

Maybe we could ask some three hundred year old people?At least they would know how they used to sound!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Again, from what little I've read, "people" applies not only to average joe's but also to top caliber violinists.

The "top calibers" might be downright liers. They keep on playing on the same delapidated crap for some 200 years by now and consistently refuse to give a chance to new violins. That's a despicable attitude. My suggestion would be to have a sort of standard new violin ( mass produced by machines ) and make that compulsory. Then we could judge only the player's cotribution.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Chet,

My point is not to till previously abused soil.....

only this:

IF age alone is not a significant factor in the sound of an instrument, THEN, by extrapolation, we should assume that it is possible for a modern instrument to be as good in all ways as the masterful instruments of the past.

still pondering,

Joe

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>........

In about 1965 I asked this same question of an old luthier ..... he said he'd think about it ....... I never did get his opinion .... and I'm still pondering ... so the answer from me my friend is ......." I'll think about it "

Link to comment
Share on other sites

when stradivari was making decent new instruments, 100 year old amatis where considered much better, im not sure wood improves if just sitting (i know it can get worse if it gets wet and most really old wood does) but if its being played a lot at least by decent players it gets better, what you see in the comments is a strong prejudice towards new instruments in comments made by mostly new instrument makers, figures, if all the comments where between world class players not makers i think the prejudice would be towards old instruments.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Age brands and contextualizes instruments in many ways that contribute to value in ways that might have little to do with sound in individual cases.It is a mistake to try and understand violins outside of their social/historical context and a nice illustration of how social historical context can work on a more accelerated level is the market in 'vintage ' electric guitars. Clapton sold his composite Strat' for nearly a million $ a few years ago.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Of course this doesn't answer Joe's question at the beginning of this thread. He asked if simply surviving to a great age makes the instrument sound better (my italics). It needn't have sounded good when new, nor would it need to sound good when old, just better than when new.

this is the point of this ponder...ing,

Joe

Link to comment
Share on other sites

... yes the woods came from an old building

Does anyone else think that using construction lumber is a nearly certain path to poor sound... that extreme age is unlikely to overcome? Don't tonewood suppliers try pretty hard to find wood that works good for instruments, and most likely did so for the Cremonese even way back then?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Does anyone else think that using construction lumber is a nearly certain path to poor sound... that extreme age is unlikely to overcome? Don't tonewood suppliers try pretty hard to find wood that works good for instruments, and most likely did so for the Cremonese even way back then?

Don,

Certainly they did. And obviously I am in favor of letting those who know their part of the trade do their thing....but will this well selected, well treated piece of tree sound better JUST because it gets a lot older? Is mere age an authentic variable in the equation of violin making?

ponderoning,

Joe

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So does this make sense? In no particular order

Skill of the maker....the mystical x factor

Choice of model

Wood

Ground

Varnish

Fittings

Set-up.........................

all these trump mere age as factors in making an excellent instrument.

And age, as Melvin so eloquently said, has its importance from an historical, aesthetic, and contextual perspective.

Physical aging alone is NOT a prime factor....so an instrument which survives to great age will not by virtue of this aging sound better.

on we go,

Joe

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well...that's nice, and I would probably enjoy reading it. But since I was specifically referring to the Cremonese masters, not the Bolognese, I think I will stand by my comment. I was referring to those who are emulated today, and about whom we constantly wonder, as of the pinball wizard, "What makes him so good??"

I think most of those guys were dead by the time this treatise was written, right? And it wasn't written by them....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Looking at Anders' correlation table under the age category, it appears to be moderately correlated to the DE-F parameter, or clarity and brilliance minus harshness. It is not well correlated with anything else, and nothing else is correlated as well with the DE-F parameter. Anders, correct me if I misinterpreted your chart.

Joe, I agree with your selection of parameters, but would add my opinion that the "skill of the maker" comes into play in selecting all of those other variables... getting good wood, knowing the model, arching, and graduations to apply, what ground and varnish to apply, skill in application, and on and on.

And while I'm rambling... it is my impression that many of the best modern makers know where to get the best wood, and/or maintain something of a favored position with the tonewood suppliers. The tightness of the Cremonese industry would make such relations even more likely, and who do you think would get first pick of the shipments?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Looking at Anders' correlation table under the age category, it appears to be moderately correlated to the DE-F parameter, or clarity and brilliance minus harshness. It is not well correlated with anything else, and nothing else is correlated as well with the DE-F parameter. Anders, correct me if I misinterpreted your chart.

Joe, I agree with your selection of parameters, but would add my opinion that the "skill of the maker" comes into play in selecting all of those other variables... getting good wood, knowing the model, arching, and graduations to apply, what ground and varnish to apply, skill in application, and on and on.

And while I'm rambling... it is my impression that many of the best modern makers know where to get the best wood, and/or maintain something of a favored position with the tonewood suppliers. The tightness of the Cremonese industry would make such relations even more likely, and who do you think would get first pick of the shipments?

clarity and brilliance minus harshness.....thanks! to both Anders and Don

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Independent of all other factors...maker, set-up, varnish, form, played, not played, everything else....

Is the sound of an instrument better simply because it survives to great age?

pondering,

Joe

In my experience, no. If your question implies that age gives to the sound a quality that cannot be achieved manually with a bit of skill and good wood. Playing (which requires time spent) could add something to the sound quality.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that the age of the wood matters only AFTER it has been graduated. Wood that is 3/4" thick will not respond to uv and cosmic radiation oxidization like something that is 2.5 mil. Oxidization is rusting, it is how everything including us gets "broken down", while varnish may add sone radiation protection, I feel that when plates are that thin the individual cells are prone to "rusting" and literally physically breaking down the "metal" components on a molecular level within he cell walls. After 300 yrs of exposure at the thickness average of 3 mill I would venture to say that on close examination at a micro level we would see "perforation" in the cell walls where once "solid" iron{for example} components have "rusted" out and left behind a thinned and "missing" part of the cell strand. Keeping in mind also that the constant cycling of expanding and contracting "works" the sponge cells thus stressing them oven time causing them to loose some elasticity and density by interacting with the oxidization which ultimately effects the woods bound water capabilities as well as it free water absorbtion rate. The sponge effect of the wood relys on a syphon like vacuum effect to absorb moisture. The tightness and vacuum effect corelates to the woods "spoonge" vacuum based on its structure. It would be like running a fan with just one window open, you could get a good vacuum effect and thus good draw of air flow, broken down uv perferated wood is like trying to do the same thing with all the windows open, you loose all suction and draw. Not only does it not want to hold as much bound water, but its ability to suck/draw water from air moisture is reduced as its structure has changed over time and it no longer is "tight", all the windows are open so to speak.

This is clearly seen on very,very old rough grade thicker cut lumber. When cut with a saw it is not uncommon to see 2-5 mill of very effected wood that is very dark, very punky and over all degraded compared to the interior wood that lies just underneath. Violins only being 3-5 mill thick on average easily fall in this range of uv penetration.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

solid iron particles in cellulose? and fine violins exposed to lot's of UV for 300 years turning to dry rot.. hmmm... Barking up the wrong tree I think

Are there any chemists on this board who could tell us what actually happens to wood as it ages? Not just exposed to the elements but just the age component? Well of course time itself is just a temporal dimension so it won't do anything so there has to be some chemical reaction that occurs and oxidation is one although I wouldn't equate it with metal rust.

And on that note from a chemical perspective what exactly does UV exposure do to cause white wood to turn tan? Sorry that question is off topic but it just came to mind from all this.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

clarity and brilliance minus harshness.....

As Joe asked about age & sound quality "in violins, violas and cellos", I have to say there're many "old" violas from Cremonese Masters which don't exactly comply with the 'clarity' factor. That speaks volumes with respect to age and sound quality of modern violas. Cellos, I dunno.

Jim

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are there any chemists on this board who could tell us what actually happens to wood as it ages?

No, I'm not a chemist, but I have run across some things in researching wood processing. There's the vaporization of volatiles, and slow breakdown of the less stable hydrocarbons... hemicellulose primarily. Both of these processed, it seems to me, would be hindered by thickness of the wood. Oxidation I don't know anything about.

I have to say there're many "old" violas from Cremonese Masters which don't exactly comply with the 'clarity' factor. That speaks volumes with respect to age and sound quality of modern violas. Cellos, I dunno.

I would hesitate to apply a violin-based correlation and quality assessment to any other instrument. Especially when the correlation isn't strong, and I might even have it backwards, as I haven't heard from Anders yet. The size of the plates would likely shift the frequency regions downward in a viola, so that loss of harshness in a violin would become loss of clarity in a viola, both due to age. Just speculation, tho.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As Joe asked about age & sound quality "in violins, violas and cellos", I have to say there're many "old" violas from Cremonese Masters which don't exactly comply with the 'clarity' factor. That speaks volumes with respect to age and sound quality of modern violas. Cellos, I dunno.

Jim

I think this thread started off poorly defined - as suggested by my first response and amplified by Murphy's post. The issue is IMO: Regardless of whether the instrument is good or bad at creation, does the instrument improve? Next, this begs the question why does it improve, if it does?

The problem is defining how good or bad an instrument was at the beginning - something that is impossible to say about old instruments - especially those that have been altered. There are too many issues and variables involved with defining this question.

Where is that ten foot pole of Chet's? :D

Stay Tuned.

Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Independent of all other factors...maker, set-up, varnish, form, played, not played, everything else....

Is the sound of an instrument better simply because it survives to great age?

pondering,

Joe

Independent of everything all other factors (experience, intelligence, motivation, health, desire): Is a person better/wiser simply because they survive to a great age? :)

Sorry Joe... I resisted for a while, but couldn't help myself! I think Chet's 10 foot pole is out there somewhere, but the way the question was presented kept making me giggle.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Looking at Anders' correlation table under the age category, it appears to be moderately correlated to the DE-F parameter, or clarity and brilliance minus harshness. It is not well correlated with anything else, and nothing else is correlated as well with the DE-F parameter. Anders, correct me if I misinterpreted your chart.

I do not have acess to the tables where I am now, but I think you are right when we look at the total table of violins and Hardanger fiddles. However, I do think that the Hardanger fiddles do tend to have higher values than the violins due to a lower bridge resonance and different design possibly in combination with longer f-holes. I will have to look more into this when I have access to the dataset where I can look at the data for the HF and violins separately.

I have the hypothesis that the harshness region might be affected by damping, and that older wood might have larger damping in that region. But that is yet a speculation.

If possible age effects did affect the sound, why would a change always be to something better? If a fiddle is very good fresh, and the wood did change its properties by age, would it then become worse?

Certainly old fiddles need to get a new basbar, new glue joints and corrections of archings. These restaurations might also affect the sound, and that there may be a deterioriation of the sound until that point. Age will certainly lead to more failures, maybe some instruments become better with such failures? But some may become much better after the restoration than prior to it. I guess many of us have such experiences.

I think it is needed to define what assumptions are made about an instrument to discuss if age effects does affect the sound from a violin. An extremely good modern violin could e.g. be less likely to improve than just a good one, or even the age might make it worse. There are plenty of old violins out there that are not particularly good, but maybe they have improved with age all of them?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Independent of everything all other factors (experience, intelligence, motivation, health, desire): Is a person better/wiser simply because they survive to a great age? :)

Sorry Joe... I resisted for a while, but couldn't help myself! I think Chet's 10 foot pole is out there somewhere, but the way the question was presented kept making me giggle.

Thanks Jeff,

I was hoping you would chime in eventually. I apologize for a bit of deceptive wording here. But. after all I am a fisherman and chumming the waters is ok in fishing...

There is such a strong prejudice toward "aged" instruments. This has always been a bit contradictory for me. I understand the issue of historical significance,the beauty of an aged ground and varnish, the understanding we receive from the context of the instrument as it was created. And these factors rightfully support the market in antique instruments.

However if the issue is new making the prejudice continues.....and I believe it is a false prejudice....in that mere age in NOT a significant factor in the quality of the instrument. And the apologetic attitude of modern makers is mis-placed. Am I wrong?

on we go,

Joe

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...