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Stradivari's Secret


Roger Hargrave

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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.

 

Hi again, Addie:

 

One other thing Jack told me was that when he and Wali visited the Strad museum there was a tool there that was very similar to the through the FF hole scrapers he devised.  I have searched in vain to find any other reference to it on the internet, nor does Sacconi mention it.  Jack was quite definite in his description of it.  Was it once there?  Yes, along with a gold chain he found useful in designing his arches......... :D (before someone jumps on me, read the last sentence as "who knows?")  I hope Bruce Carlson will tell us what he has observed there over the years.  I got the impression from Jack that his visit there was some years ago.  Could the content of the displays have changed?

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I hear one copy is in a double wide castle guarded by gators

 

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.   :)  

Absolute rubbish.  ["What was that commotion?"  "Sick gator.  Threw up some contraption with spikes on it wrapped up in a black cassock."  "Oh, the poor thing.  I so wish people would stop feeding them things that don't agree with them.  Would you bring me some more roses, Gomez?" "Of course, cara mia........."] :lol:B)

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Addie, pressing fingers down certainly changes the sound. I think I started this way, but moved to plasticine because I needed both hands to play the violin to try all (or many) notes. What I found was that if I put plasticine in any particular spot, it would have no effect on the sound on most notes, but have a significant effect on other notes, or even a single note. The finger press doesn't show this on more than the open strings, because you can't play notes on the violin if the fingers are pressing on the belly. There are certainly "hot spots" as described in the Sam Z article.

 

All of my little experiments were done around 20 years ago. I have had a 15 year break from violin making and have just returned to it. I intend to use the plasticine method for the violin I am making and journal the results. If anyone is interested, I can post them. If many people were doing this, a "map" of these hot spots could be created faster.

 

I'm yet to use the plasticine method from the start, so far I have only used it to make improvements. So I'd make a violin, like the sound of it mostly, but certain notes I might be weaker than the rest, or whatever other "problem", and I'd use the plasticine to find the spot that makes them weaker, or make worse the characteristic I don't like, and regraduate. The improvement has always been made the way I wanted it, which means the plasticine is reliable in showing that the hot spot is correct for that note or notes. Because it was a correction after the instrument was finished, it was re-thicknessed on the inside to avoid carving away varnish. If the instrument was unvarnished, the instrument could be altered from the outside. I have never played an unvarnished violin before, so I don't know what the final difference in tone would be.

 

Something I haven't yet tried is to see if there is a secondary area that affects the hot spot in a minor way. Say I find the hot spot for a particular note, by putting plasticine in a spot that makes a clear difference to the sound of the note I am playing. Is there another spot I could put plasticine on either plate that can alter the sound of that note further? I could find this out for myself in 5 minutes, but I am making templates this morning. :) I'll try it for sure.

 

The adjustments only need be small. I opened my last post mentioning the concept of the thick bridge to illustrate how a small difference in thickness can make a noticeable change in sound.

 

I think if Cremonese makers understood these hot spots, then it can explain why Guarneri could work roughly, but make a fine sounding instrument. He obviously got the important things right, and must have known what they were. There are definitely tonal reasons for why the centre of the back of the violin is thick, and I'm sure if that was known then quite a lot else was known too.

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 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. 

  I'm always in skeptic mode when people tell me they can barely brush sand paper over a part of a surface and effect change. Really?  I do think there are ways to do thinning in specific areas that will make shifts in sound. More like trade offs, but in some cases everything gets better. 

 

To bring up the G word and the way they are constructed seems appropriate for a minute if only to use it as a model or concept. The  structures in violins and guitars are different in many ways, but I have been thinking about analogies in some basic ways wooden plates react to thinning in each structure. 

 

The first idea is stiff in the middle and thinner towards the edges. If you had a thin middle where the bridge stands it would absorb more vibrations than it could transmit to outer areas. And too stiff an area under the bridge stifles the flow of vibration to the outer areas. But say you get it together and you have a good base of overall vibration being transmitted, then you can look at smaller areas or regions. 

 

The example I have been able to get myself, which was explained to me by different makers, is that thinning behind the bridge brings out bass, but too much and the instrument becomes breathy and the bass loses potency. Thinning on either side of the bridge can bring up trebles, but there are diminishing returns if the stiffness across the grain is lost. And that is the start, but you have to begin with a good instrument first before you can sand a bit here or there. Some makers say this is absolute nonsense and others advertise they do as part of their regular work. 

 

So here is where I arrived, if the instrument feels right under your hands, has the right tension under the bow or finger and is readily activated then it usually sounds good. But within that spectrum of tactile response 'harder' instruments are usually active in the trebles and stiff in the bass. Softening them so they have a better feel under the hands usually improves the sound. 'Soft' under the hands instruments are more difficult because how do you add stiffness? ( which is what they need to feel better under the hand). So it has led me to build over the years from hard to soft- the first teacher advised me to do this. He said you can build the next one lighter until you hit the zone where it feels right, which I eventually took to mean feels right and responds while playing. 

 

So what if the technique in Cremona involved some handed down knowledge about building on the stiff side and then stringing the instrument up and "softening" it to the point where it felt correct under the hand? There must be more than one way you could scrape here or there on the outside and inside to bring out the right feel. The tactile method of bringing out a sound could have been part of the understanding and working method. If you make a stiff or robust instrument and you know where and how to remove wood in certain regions you could push and pull the sound around to your taste as you bring it into a goof feel under the hand. But the key is to begin with enough meat to be able take it out. It is a reductive process and we all know if you go too far you get an instrument that no longer feels healthy. 

 

Anyway, did I just say the obvious?  :D

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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.

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).

 

Martin,

By extension does it make sense that the "tubes" being open is advantageous?  If the ground or the varnish packs the tubes with rubble, is this akin to dust in organ pipes?

Joe

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Martin,

By extension does it make sense that the "tubes" being open is advantageous?  If the ground or the varnish packs the tubes with rubble, is this akin to dust in organ pipes?

Joe

Ummm, wouldn't the hypothetical "reeds" or "pipes" be resonating somewhere in the far ultrasonic spectrum to begin with, even if they weren't full of ground, varnish, lignin, or whatnot?  ;)

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Hi Joe,

Well, Wolfjk's idea has already been summarily dismissed by many!

However, aside from the obvious fact that the resonant frequency of each individual tube would be far too short a wavelength to ever hear, I imagine there's general agreement that spruce has a "sound" which other woods don't quite have. I suppose (as a non-scientific buffoon) that this is to do with sound transmission speeds and flexibility, which are in turn to do with the proportion of air to wood. Additionally, if we could find a consistent synthetic material with the acoustic properties of wood, we would be using it, at least for all our research into arching, f-hole placement and thicknessing. I'm prepared to accept that in a certain sense wood acts in the same way as a solid material, but is it possible to reproduce with a solid material the particular shape of waveform created by a particular spruce top?

So I'm not ready to dismiss the idea that the air trapped in the wood might be "the key" to tonal success or otherwise.

The tubes are clearly not open, and don't function as organ pipes, but it might be that clogging a lot of them up with goo is a bad thing to do, and that a mineral sealing layer might be much better than a sticky one.

My own take on Stradivari's "secret" is that someone with a very musical ear and who can play up to a decent level should be able to fine-tune the thickness of a violin strung up in the white and get consistently good results after a lot of practice! Inheriting a tradition which understands the broad concepts of this activity would certainly be a help.

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Martin,

By extension does it make sense that the "tubes" bring open is advantageous?  If the ground or the varnish packs the tubes with rubble, is this akin to dust in organ pipes?

Joe

 

 

Stradivari's Secret.

 

Interesting speculations about what construction methods might result in finding that.

 

Well, regarding the "varnish" and "tube" ideas, (and the scraping different spots on the outside surface ideas,)

You can easily make the assumption that the "tubes" are then closed on one surface, ALWAYS - by either the varnish, or the ground, or both - on the top or outside surface of the plates, but is left open on the inside surface of the plates (though, obviously, in some camps you'd be barking up the wrong tree, because they also routinely finish the inside surface of the plates with a thin coat of something.) which would be, or would cause, one set of particular circumstances.

Right?

Which could then be put to a test easily enough by playing the instrument in, and then playing it for a while to see how well it played, then, taking it apart and finishing the inside surface of the plate(s), where the "open end" of the tubes are now sealed off, and then put it back together and compare the differences in tone. Or - do it the other way around. Either way.

If this theory about tone alteration by "tube closure or openness" was anywhere near correct for accomplishing a specific (or major) tonal result, or a "Cremonese difference" in tone, there would then be a huge or marked difference in tone either with the inside sealed of, or not sealed off - depending on how you thought the violin makers of old did it.

 

But I believe you'd find that this is, or makes, only a small particular difference, or trade off in making method(s) and it would obviously make some difference, either way (better or worse), but that difference should simply be incorporated into the making style of the individual - and then on to many many bigger, better and other things.

But the fact of the matter is, that this idea is simply an idea that is practiced by different makers, on both sides of this issue, and is not the, or a, difference that will make one a "Cremonese - like" maker or not.

It's simply one single step in a million different steps, where they will effect the outcome in yet one more small way. Either way, not making enough of a difference to be a huge difference in the final outcome of the instrument.

Scraping the outside surface of the top? - ditto.

It is simply yet another method used by some makers of the day (this day), and not by other makers of the day, (this day) both of which (makers that is) can make great violins or not so great violins. It's simply yet another commonly accepted or rejected method of construction.

Is it a "the great way", of accomplishing certain "Cremonese" results?

No.

It's just yet another way to try to accomplish our present day tonal goals (or not). It can work well or not, depending on the many, many, other steps taken during the construction of the instrument.

I'm not trying to be negative about the differing theory’s brought up by different makers here, but I'm trying to be realistic about what results different makers are expecting, by adopting these different methods, all of which have been discussed many many times here before, tried many many times before and do result in different outcomes, but not great different end results spoken of here.

These steps, any single step mentioned here recently in this post, are merely single steps, and not nearly entire journeys - with regard to making violins that might possibly mimic "Cremonese" violins

Somewhere recently, I have mentioned the fact that we continue to retread the same ground over and over.

Well, in fact that's exactly what we do...

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Don't be such a party-pooper CT! :D

What's the point of starting a thread with the words "secret" and "Stradivari" in the title unless we're meant to muddle on rebarbatively for 20 pages, just like we did last time, and the time before?

Since the last major "secrets of Stradivari" thread, I was involved in a very serious and well-monitored double blind testing session. It turned out (no surprise here) that there are plenty of contemporary makers producing violins tonally equivalent to Strads and Del Gesus. I would urge anyone obsessed with the secrets of the Cremonese masters to get involved in a similar procedure.

The secret is that they're old, impossibly valuable, and in every sense archetypal. Unless it's possible to produce something with these qualities, why not focus on other things?

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Ummm, wouldn't the hypothetical "reeds" or "pipes" be resonating somewhere in the far ultrasonic spectrum to begin with, even if they weren't full of ground, varnish, lignin, or whatnot?  ;)

Actually, in the interest of correctness, say this tube was 3" long and open at both ends a quick mental calculation (i.e. could be really wrong) says that the resonant frequency would be 2000Hz. That is a very audible frequency. In addition, suppose that one end of the tube was clogged with varnish or ground and the other end was open, that would cut the resonant frequency in half to 1000Hz. So in principle tubes of this length can produce audible sounds.

 

Now, to get back to whether this is relevant to violins, take a billet of spruce and blow across the end of it. Does it sound like a pan pipe? If so then Wolfjk's idea works. Does it sound like blowing air across the end of a billet of spruce? In that case the idea doesn't work.

 

The problem isn't whether the ends are open or not, the problem is the narrowness of the tubes. Having tubes this narrow creates tons of damping which will prevent them from resonating. This effect is already pretty strong in tubes the diameter of a coffee stirrer.

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Actually, in the interest of correctness, say this tube was 3" long and open at both ends a quick mental calculation (i.e. could be really wrong) says that the resonant frequency would be 2000Hz. That is a very audible frequency. In addition, suppose that one end of the tube was clogged with varnish or ground and the other end was open, that would cut the resonant frequency in half to 1000Hz. So in principle tubes of this length can produce audible sounds.

 

Now, to get back to whether this is relevant to violins, take a billet of spruce and blow across the end of it. Does it sound like a pan pipe? If so then Wolfjk's idea works. Does it sound like blowing air across the end of a billet of spruce? In that case the idea doesn't work.

 

The problem isn't whether the ends are open or not, the problem is the narrowness of the tubes. Having tubes this narrow creates tons of damping which will prevent them from resonating. This effect is already pretty strong in tubes the diameter of a coffee stirrer.

If the presence of "tubes" is relevant to violins, it's clearly not because they are blown across like flutes ....

I have a nice long plastic tube here with a cap at either end. If neither cap is in, I can easily generate a note by blowing across one end or by hitting it somewhere. If one cap is in, that note drops by an octave. If I replace both caps, I can blow till I'm blue in the face but I can't generate a note. Holding the tube randomly and hitting it is similarly un-successful. But if I hold it at a node (about a fifth of the way down), I can hit it and generate a pretty musical fourth above the low octave.

There's more than one way to excite a tube!

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This "resonating tubes" idea needs to die until anyone can show that it actually happens on a piece of wood.  It ain't real, folks; the tubes are so narrow that any resonance will quickly die from viscous drag.

 

However, the air in the wood does do something... it reduces the density, creating a structural material that is pretty much impossible to duplicate by artifical means.  Cellulose is pretty amazing stuff on its own, and then forming it into a honeycomb cell structure makes it ideal for sounboards.  If I could do better with anything else, I would have tried it by now.

 

There seems to be continued belief in some idealized Stradivari /Cremonese myth that their fabulous tone is the result of expert tonal adjustments by the original makers.  Has everyone forgotten that most of them have had new bass bars, regraduations, repairs, and whatever else happens to wood over 300 years?  Come on, folks... what we have now is not the same as what came out of the makers' hands.  If you could show that regraduated instruments are far worse than the untouched ones, you might have one weak wobbly leg to stand on with this "tuning" myth.  I find it much more believable that they just used good overall practices, and were done with it.  If it was a little stiffer than normal, someone with a strong arm might like it.  I just don't see them diddling around with each one very much, at the rate they cranked them out.  The only thing I have heard from dealers today is "I don't judge tone of an instrument... clients have all kinds of ideas about what they like".  I don't hear much about the "perfect" tone.

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The secret is that they're old, impossibly valuable, and in every sense archetypal. Unless it's possible to produce something with these qualities, why not focus on other things?

 

Not only do I agree with your "party pooper" assesment, I agree with this assesmant also.

 

Let's get focusing on these "other things" then.

Unfortunately, the almost unconcious drive of every maker is to continually try to recreate "What Strad Did, and, How He Did It" is almost unescapeable. It's a sort of illness.

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For me it's no problem , every morning around seven I take a big dump ..then around about nine a huge pee...the only problem I have is don't wake up till ten..... :ph34r:

Sooo.....

   Why is it so hard to believe that Strad was just really good?

   Or that he was not subject to the same problems we all have?

     Or that He was just doing the best he could at the time?

    I just watched the Indi 500.... after three hours and five hundred miles and multiple crashes.( the whole reason for watching)...the difference in times between the winner and the loosers was less than seconds ....makes a guy wonder if there was really a "winner"

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