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Stradivari's Secret


Roger Hargrave

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There's more to discover, but I don't think anyone cares. :)

Oh of course we all care! That's why we read this stuff day after day.  

I knew Torbjörn would like Wolfjk's reference to internal air. And yes I agree that it is important, possibly even more important than the overall thickness systems. 

Carlo, do you have an information source? This post was wonderful. 

I also like the point that Martin makes about not assuming that Cremonese instruments sound better. I hope that I did not give this impression while I was raving about them. BUT I really do not believe that many modern makers are able to capture their qualities as a whole. The numbers getting close are increacing, but we will just have to wait and see. 

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Thanks Michael, I'll look it up. I haven't seen any other information on this, it's something I started doing when I was an apprentice. I was worried because I didn't know how the violin worked, and assumed everyone else did. With my first violin, a Bergonzi copy, I fluked a tremendous tone. I was at a music camp and it impressed the tutors, there was talk of commissions and things, and I was scared to death because I didn't know how I did it. I needed to find a method with results I could predict/reproduce.

 

[Edit: Yes! Just like gluey, but instead of thickening with veneer, I just applied plasticine, listened and learned. Quick and easy. ]

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Ok, you came close and forced me to reveal the secret.

 

1540, Rome, Pope Paul III signs the bull Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae, Íñigo López de Loyola, who later became Saint Ignacio de Loyola has his order the Societatis Iesu (Jesuits) finally approved.  

 

1547, Venice the Accademia Segreta was founded, supported by an unnamed  "magnanimous prince", the Accademia buit a spacious house with a laboratory called "The Filosofia", equipped with the latest alchemical equipments, in this laboratory hundreds of secret experiments where carried aimed at discovering new secrets of Alchemy. During the Segreti's brief lifespan 7,800 scudi where spent on the Accademia. One of it's members, an expert distiller named Fiorino Speciani joined the Societatis Iesu.

 

1549,  Fiorino Speciani was sent by the Societatis to the Lombard city of Cremona to setup a laboratory and teach pharmacy and alchemy in the new found school, part of what later would become the biggest network of schools Europe has known, in the order of five to six hundred schools distributed along the continent. These jesuits where highly united and dedicated to the art of learning, they had expert translators, historians, and produced an incredible amount of books which circulated between them. They had missionaries traveling to the most distant parts of the World and returning with the most exotic materials and sharing the newly learned techniques,  and experimenting with it. Fiorino used this knowledge web to the fullest.

 

Speciani loved music and quickly became friends with an instrument maker who was trying to develop a new type of varnish for his newly developed violeta.

 

Speciani was not only a great alchemist but a very funny and captivating person, in 1560 when the newly appointed bishop of Cremona Niccolò Sfondrati became ill of the gallstone and no doctor could cure him, they called in Fiorino, who distilled a concoction of exotic resins and turpentines which eased the pain, after administering the medicine Fiorino began making jokes, the Cardinal could not stop laughing, they immediately became close friends, legend says that when Sfondrati was being coronated Pope Gregorius XIV he was taken over by an irresistible laughter caused by a story told by Speciani regarding coronation.

 

1564 Speciani recieves a gift from his friend now Pope Gregorius XIV, a large collection of alchemical instruments, distilling equipment and exotic materials including a barrel of strange insect which grew in cactus in the new continent.

 

Speciani's laboratory produced luminous varnishes, pigments and tansparent colors for local painters and instrument makers for hundreds of years, books on varnish where written by Jesuits in Rome and Spain inspired by Speciani's achievements, varnish making became a fever, but the jesuits did not reveal Fiorino's closely guarded secrets. 

 

1750, the power hungry Marquis of Pombal encoutered strong resistance from the Jesuits, 1759 he expelled the Societatis Iesu from Portugal, 1773 the order was suppresed byPope Clement XIV, Fiorino Speciani's legendary laboratory was shut down, the books removed. One specific manuscript and jars of colors and varnish where secretly given to a certain Bartolomeo son of Giuseppe (Perhaps Guarnieri del Gesù?), the manuscript was given by Bartolomeo to a certain Addie Contarini (supposedly a direct descendant of the prince who funded the Accademia Segreta) and closely guarded by family members, attached to the manuscript was a letter with instructions sating that the Societatis Iesu would return and in the first century of the third millennium anno domini one of it's members would become the Successor of the Prince of Apostles (as history shows - Pope Francis), only then it should be decoded, two copies are in the hands of a few members from the Accademia Segreta Maestronet - today's Accademia Segreta of Venice - in unknown locations (I hear one copy is in a double wide castle guarded by gators). The original,  I have heard from a knowledgeable source that had been taken to Crimean peninsula in 1895, removed in 1917 because of the russian revolution, one un-informed ex-member expelled  from the Accademia Segreta Maestronet leaked it's outdated location to a certain politician (for large sums of money) - But the Accademia had long moved the manuscript to a distant continent, World leaders believe it is in Crimea at the moment,  which explains the current events in the news.

 

I am eagerly awaiting the findings  - named the Del Gesù Code.

 

Carlo, spero in piazza San Mauricio, Venezia, nella prima luna nuova del mese di Aprile.
Io cappotto nero e cappello a tesa larga. 
Sono 100 ducati per il manoscritto. 
Che Dio ci aiuti
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Maybe worth clarifying that Torbjörn and Wolfjk are talking about completely different things. 

Wolfjk is talking about the air held within the spruce in the top, and how this cluster of resonant tubes (reeds) might be affected by different approaches. Torbjörn is talking about the volume of air and its shape inside the corpus.

Can't stop thinking abut Wolfjk's concept - it makes me wonder whether springing bassbars might have nothing to do with tension and everything to do with maintaining the length of particular groups of tubes (assuming that it's tonally advantageous of course).

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Ok, you came close and forced me to reveal the secret.

 

1540, Rome, Pope Paul III signs the bull Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae, Íñigo López de Loyola, who later became Saint Ignacio de Loyola has his order the Societatis Iesu (Jesuits) finally approved.  

 

1547, Venice the Accademia Segreta was founded, supported by an unnamed  "magnanimous prince", the Accademia buit a spacious house with a laboratory called "The Filosofia", equipped with the latest alchemical equipments, in this laboratory hundreds of secret experiments where carried aimed at discovering new secrets of Alchemy. During the Segreti's brief lifespan 7,800 scudi where spent on the Accademia. One of it's members, an expert distiller named Fiorino Speciani joined the Societatis Iesu.

 

1549,  Fiorino Speciani was sent by the Societatis to the Lombard city of Cremona to setup a laboratory and teach pharmacy and alchemy in the new found school, part of what later would become the biggest network of schools Europe has known, in the order of five to six hundred schools distributed along the continent. These jesuits where highly united and dedicated to the art of learning, they had expert translators, historians, and produced an incredible amount of books which circulated between them. They had missionaries traveling to the most distant parts of the World and returning with the most exotic materials and sharing the newly learned techniques,  and experimenting with it. Fiorino used this knowledge web to the fullest.

 

Speciani loved music and quickly became friends with an instrument maker who was trying to develop a new type of varnish for his newly developed violeta.

 

Speciani was not only a great alchemist but a very funny and captivating person, in 1560 when the newly appointed bishop of Cremona Niccolò Sfondrati became ill of the gallstone and no doctor could cure him, they called in Fiorino, who distilled a concoction of exotic resins and turpentines which eased the pain, after administering the medicine Fiorino began making jokes, the Cardinal could not stop laughing, they immediately became close friends, legend says that when Sfondrati was being coronated Pope Gregorius XIV he was taken over by an irresistible laughter caused by a story told by Speciani regarding coronation.

 

1564 Speciani recieves a gift from his friend now Pope Gregorius XIV, a large collection of alchemical instruments, distilling equipment and exotic materials including a barrel of strange insect which grew in cactus in the new continent.

 

Speciani's laboratory produced luminous varnishes, pigments and tansparent colors for local painters and instrument makers for hundreds of years, books on varnish where written by Jesuits in Rome and Spain inspired by Speciani's achievements, varnish making became a fever, but the jesuits did not reveal Fiorino's closely guarded secrets. 

 

1750, the power hungry Marquis of Pombal encoutered strong resistance from the Jesuits, 1759 he expelled the Societatis Iesu from Portugal, 1773 the order was suppresed byPope Clement XIV, Fiorino Speciani's legendary laboratory was shut down, the books removed. One specific manuscript and jars of colors and varnish where secretly given to a certain Bartolomeo son of Giuseppe (Perhaps Guarnieri del Gesù?), the manuscript was given by Bartolomeo to a certain Addie Contarini (supposedly a direct descendant of the prince who funded the Accademia Segreta) and closely guarded by family members, attached to the manuscript was a letter with instructions sating that the Societatis Iesu would return and in the first century of the third millennium anno domini one of it's members would become the Successor of the Prince of Apostles (as history shows - Pope Francis), only then it should be decoded, two copies are in the hands of a few members from the Accademia Segreta Maestronet - today's Accademia Segreta of Venice - in unknown locations (I hear one copy is in a double wide castle guarded by gators). The original,  I have heard from a knowledgeable source that had been taken to Crimean peninsula in 1895, removed in 1917 because of the russian revolution, one un-informed ex-member expelled  from the Accademia Segreta Maestronet leaked it's outdated location to a certain politician (for large sums of money) - But the Accademia had long moved the manuscript to a distant continent, World leaders believe it is in Crimea at the moment,  which explains the current events in the news.

 

I am eagerly awaiting the findings  - named the Del Gesù Code.

Carlo,

I can't WAIT for the movie!

Joe

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I also like the point that Martin makes about not assuming that Cremonese instruments sound better. I hope that I did not give this impression while I was raving about them. BUT I really do not believe that many modern makers are able to capture their qualities as a whole. The numbers getting close are increacing, but we will just have to wait and see. 

 

 

The answer to "Strad's Secret" should be obtainable.  Just go to the modern makers who are "getting close", and find out what they are doing differently from us less enlightened makers.  If they'll talk.

 

 

Wolfjk:  air resonance within the cells of wood is something I have never considered, and for good reason.  If you can produce a note by blowing across the end of a stick of wood, I'll pay more attention.  Thus far, though, wood has always acted acoustically as a solid material as far as I've noticed.

 

Doug c:  I too use bluetac or magnet pairs to investigate plate activity.  And, in general, I agree with the idea that where the added mass make a tonal improvement, the next fiddle might do well to be thicker there.  However, there are limitations; one: adding wood also adds stiffness, which can change things differently; two:  this method doesn't work so well to tell you where it would be beneficial to make the next one thinner.

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The only real secrets that exist today, in my aged and gnarled opinion, and by my firsthand observation, are specific modern techniques, that different makers don't feel like sharing - because of current market concerns.

Very understandable.

The idea of "Strad's secrets" not being shared?

There apparently is no getting around the myth, is there?

"the cabal of initiates"...

Sheesh! when, oh when, does this mad idea go away?

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Knowing which areas to thickness in order to free up the sound for certain notes can be learnt from using plasticine.

 

Doug_c,

 

I pinched the body while playing open strings.  I have mentioned this before.  Pinching between the upper treble corner and the fingerboard kills the highs.  Pinching next to the upper bass corner of the tailpiece kills all tone and projection.

 

Using inverse logic, I figured that thinning these areas would increase projection, and and also bring out the the A and E strings more.

 

It worked on my famous “dull violin."

 

Then I read Jack Fry’s work.  Same 2 areas, which he called Strad holes 1 & 4.  He says thinning at Strad hole 4 will brighten any violin.  I already knew it would brighten my dull violin.  And a second one, too.

 

Then Michael Molnar tells me Sam Z is also working on similar lines (“gluey”).

 

People on MN tend to dismiss Fry before you can get a conversation started.  But those thinned areas show up on enough Strads, and Doug_c, myself, Jack Fry, and Sam Z have all noticed these key areas of the top plate. Anyone else here?  I think Michael Molnar believes.

 

People can dismiss this idea if they want, but I’m going to keep going with it.  

 

 

Addie, not trying to reproduce the Strad sound, just going for a good sound--one I like.

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Notice that Carlo has not responded since he posted the magnificent post.  I'm worried that he may have had to up-anchor to escape the ordine segreto della gesuita, or some other diabolic holders of secrets.  They have their tentacles everywhere, you know, even the Isle of the Leopard Penguin.   :)  

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Mom works for the NSA's Violin Section, and consults for Shar's International Security Division. Carlo is of course monitored by both, and is fine. He has a supply of Jesuit repellant supplied by Haudenosaunee Industries. We're more worried about the Tonewood Mafia tracking him down.

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Wolfjk raises another theory based on ideas of resonance.  Certainly considering resonances can be a powerful way to look at violins.   But it's also useful for us to remember that resonance concepts have some boundary conditions, and don't explain all aspects of vibratory systems.  

 

In trying to understand violins, we seem to  talk mostly about resonances and their frequencies.  But we don't just hit violins to play them.  The strings are certainly well explained by resonance theory, but then their vibration pass through the bridge and drive the vibration of the violin.  Driven systems have additional aspects that we seem to largely ignore. 

 

For example, a high Q for a string is obviously good.  But for a resonance in the violin itself, a high Q means a sharper and narrower response.  Is this automatically good?  A lower Q  means a broadened and smoothed response in a driven system.   Perhaps that is in many cases more desirable?

 

Also, its very easy to forget that the violin is rather small compared to the physical wave lengths of the frequencies relevant to music making.   This imposes limits on the behavior of a driven system.  Consider a tuning fork.  Certainly that's a system with a very high Q physical resonance.   If you strike the system, out comes the resonance.  But what happens if you try to sound the tuning fork by attaching a driver?  You will be able to stimulate the fundamental, and some of the partials above that.  Because its a very high Q system, you will also be able to use the driver to vibrate the fork at frequencies that are slightly deflected from its undriven frequencies, but only by slight amounts.   What you won't be able to do is drive the fork at frequencies below its cut off.   The speed of wave propagation in the fork material, and the physical dimensions of the fork establish a cut off, below which it will be unable to vibrate.

 

Any particular mode of any particular physical component of the violin system is going to have such a cut off; and -as a separate contributor- the component will be irrelevant for frequencies below its cut off.   Given the very high speed of sound in wood, and the small size of the violin and its parts, these cut offs are very significant.  Yet we seem to virtually ignore this aspect of things in our discussions.

 

Related to cut-off and maters of size, in a driven system one needs to distinguish between unified cyclic vibrations and transmitted vibrations.  In the tuning fork, the whole tine of the fork is waggling back and forth cyclically in a way directly corresponding to and producing the fundamental frequency of the fork.  In contract, a very high partial of the fundamental might actually have a physically short enough wave length to be able to transmit up or down the tine.  This is a very different kind of behavior only possible when the medium is significantly longer than the wave length.  

 

Violins are small enough for cut offs to be significant with the fundamentals and lower frequencies of musical tone, and large enough for upper partials to have some degree of transmission within and through the violin.

 

Unfortunately for Wolfjk's theory, if there are such little tubes of air in wood, and if they are resonating, given their small size the frequencies and associated cut offs involved would be far too high frequency to be relevant.

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Let me add this to the remarks of Addie, Doug, and others. My little experiments do suggest that local spot removal of wood on the belly interior can improve a violin. I have had good results with Jack Fry's Hole #1 and the "tongue" which are explained in Wali's book about Fry's work. I guess I was inspired by this line of approach by Sam Z's "Gluey" and the Strad 3D project. I must point out that I know quite a few makers who do something like "micro-graduations" in their setup adjustment. The problem with this is that it is done after the instrument is assembled and setup. I don't know how to quantify these adjustments. That I find frustrating and maddening. 

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Let me add this to the remarks of Addie, Doug, and others. My little experiments do suggest that local spot removal of wood on the belly interior can improve a violin. I have had good results with Jack Fry's Hole #1 and the "tongue" which are explained in Wali's book about Fry's work. I guess I was inspired by this line of approach by Sam Z's "Gluey" and the Strad 3D project. I must point out that I know quite a few makers who do something like "micro-graduations" in their setup adjustment. The problem with this is that it is done after the instrument is assembled and setup. I don't know how to quantify these adjustments. That I find frustrating and maddening. 

 

Hi Mike and Addie:

 

I had a number of long conversations with Jack, the last a few months before he died.  What he stressed to me, and what is not stressed in Wali's book, is the role of the makers experienced ears.  That in tuning the violin to please what he hears, he shaped the sound quality to be what he wanted.  The maker could start with a mediocre sound quality and enhance the frequencies that were of deficient amplitude, and further, adjust  the sound to a pleasing balance, or at least to a state that was the best that that particular instrument could be.  The makers here seem to take the attitude that Fry advocated that Strad took one assymetric graduation map and applied it to everything he did, which is clearly not true.  As I studied the graduation maps available online, the thought that the various very thin spots seen near the edges of a number of Cremonese violins must be the result of such an approach.  The Cremonese graduation maps may appear to be random variations by a maker basically unconcerned with extreme accuracy of his thicknessing, as is advocated by Michael Darnton, whose work, knowledge and helpfulness I respect immensely, but my take on these maps is that the variations in thickness are the result of the maker knowing just where to thin to enhance a particular frequency band.  What I find frustrating and maddening is that I have not found a single example of a respected maker building a single violin to test the accuracy of the work of a well qualified scientist who studied the Cremonese violins for 40 years, laid out a complete explanation that he was satisfied with and has even produced videos to demonstrate the end of the process which makes it all work.

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Roger,

 

Thanks for that.  Yes, I can see how people would get the impression that Fry’s final graduation map was intended to be for any and all instruments.

 

Before I read Wali’s book, I knew that double reed players had mapped out where thinning would change the sound in a particular way... scrape here to do this, sand a bevel here to do this... etc.  And this is the approach I took with Fry’s work as well.  Glad I interpreted his work correctly.  

 

So I figured there might be areas of violin plates that could be thinned to change certain aspects of the volume and timbre of parts of the violin scale.  That led me to pinching the body while playing open strings, and locating areas Doug_c, and Fry, and perhaps Stradivari thinned to change aspects of the sound of the violin.

 

It worked for me, and I think Stradivari knew the process as well, but who knows?  Focussing on any area an thinning it might produce the same results as going with the Strad holes.  A good area for research.

 

A few things in the book I disagree with: there are no Fry scrapers among Stradivari’s tools, and the accuracy of his calipers is debatable as well, except for the screw-adjusted graduation punch.

 

Addie, amateur tinkerer.

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