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Stradivari's Secret


Roger Hargrave
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Now how can two such opposing views exist when there is only one universe that we all live in.

 

Simple:  neither belief can be proven to be untrue.  Each view evolves to keep that status, otherwise it disappears.  Those who believe that God appears to them in solid form every Tuesday evening for a friendly chat obviously could be proven right or wrong quite easily, and that belief would quickly change in some way.

 

...a growing number of people that try to be objective, and so the Myth of Stradivari is coming more and more under attack.

 

Thus the popularity of "Mythbusters".  (and, of course, the explosions).

 

Myths are fine; reality isn't usually as much fun, but it's OK too.

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Either there are no secrets, or there is an infinite amount of secrets, and makers just don't know it.

We do not talk about the secret of Amati, yet if I found an Amati in my attic, I would be very happy.

 

The problem with most myths, and that is exactly what we are dealing with here, is that one does not know just how much truth they are grounded in.

Troy being an example, until it was dug up, anyone saying it existed had a good chance of being laughed at.

The man who dug it up believed in his heart that it existed.

 

 

Forget violins.   Try something more important on for size.

 

For some we live in a universe that is so precise and beautiful that it screams of a Creator.

To others there is no God.  Creation without a Creator.

Now how can two such opposing views exist when there is only one universe that we all live in.

All the evidence is there for both parties.

Where lies the truth?

A simple examination of the facts should provide an easy answer ....

So why the problem then?

People have minds, but they also have hearts.

 

For the general public, Stradivari or what we percieve to be Stradivari appeals to their hearts.

For Scientists who as a group try to be objective, usually relying on data such as sound tests, logically conclude that

other makers trump Strad.

 

I would hazard a guess and say that in 1700 there were more people that chose with their heart, and that today to is a growing number of people that try to be objective, and so the Myth of Stradivari is coming more and more under attack.

DBurns,

 

Well said. Well said. Thanks.

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Stradivari's Secret lies in the wood. Where else could it be? Most Strad models have been copied at sometime or other, down to the

finest Millimeter by some of the best violin makers in the world in the last couple hundred years, but with no success. I believe all

Stradivari did out of the normal, was to soak his blanks in a borax water mixture a little while to prevent woodworm. The rest, Father

Time took care of. No one now knows how Strad instruments sounded  when new. I am no scientist, but over time the molecular 

structure of the wood changes to act like sort of a filter to weaken or take out undesirable tones or noises.

laugh as you may, this is my theory, and I'm sticking by it. The only way this can be proven is for science to find a way to artificially 

age the wood on a violin in a short time, without damaging it. 

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Jack Rushing, on 03 Mar 2014 - 8:01 PM, said:

Stradivari's Secret lies in the wood. Where else could it be? ... The only way this can be proven is for science to find a way to artificially 

age the wood on a violin in a short time, without damaging it. 

 

I agree (mostly, except for the explanation of how it makes better sound)... and it's why I'm doing what I'm doing.

 

Possibly mass delusion, though...

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My theory is that Stradivari was really really good. And he was the recipient of a few hundred years of concentrated knowledge on one subject. He had a innate talent which he drove further by hard work, and he did not have to discover the basics as they were given to him along with the received wisdom of the few hundred years of violin making. 

 

Did Babe Ruth invent baseball? No, he was just really really good. Stradivari just hit more home runs that anyone and his record still stands. That is it. Break his record. 

Hmmm.  This analogy suggests the REAL secret -- steroids.  Once again, the central role of the apothecary is demonstrated.  Strad probably would have been bond from the trade if that was the case, though.

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Simple:  neither belief can be proven to be untrue.  Each view evolves to keep that status, otherwise it disappears.  Those who believe that God appears to them in solid form every Tuesday evening for a friendly chat obviously could be proven right or wrong quite easily, and that belief would quickly change in some way.

 

 

Thus the popularity of "Mythbusters".  (and, of course, the explosions).

 

Myths are fine; reality isn't usually as much fun, but it's OK too.

Perhaps MythBusters will tackle Stradivari one day .... hopefully without the need for blowing something up.

 

Everyone believes something, and if what they believe does not make sense to others, there is no mechanism at work to settle the question.  Freedom at work.

 

Scientists believe their data, and collect it religiously.   This new way of looking and thinking about the problem of "Stradivari's Secret" is creating waves.

So at the end of the day Stradivari may for Scientists not have a secret, but for others it will always exist ... where ?  ... in the heart.

A place where logic and data, bell curves and human reasoning do not reign.  

 

No amount of logic can overcome the heart.

I have heard it said or read somewhere, that the word Athiest means a- no and thiest-God.

To be able to say that there is 'no God', one has to be everywhere at once, and to know everything there is to know, which are the qualifications for being a God.   Yet this logic does not bring an end to Athieism.   It just makes it illogical, and a matter of the heart.

 

So what is it about the heart that it defies logic?

 

So if Stradivari's secret lies in the human heart, Scientists can collect all the data they want, and still people will believe what they want in their heart.

There is no mechanism to settle the question.

 

I know that you are not trying to find the secret, but are trying to understand what makes a good fiddle, and that is a problem that does not directly involve the heart, and so is a question that can be tackled.

It is only once the violin leaves the shop, and enters the world that it becomes subject to human fancies and judgement.

 

If Stradivari's secret lies in the heart, it will never be found, but will always exist.

I like my chances with Gordian's Knot better.

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I'm inclined to toward the 'no big magic secret' idea.  Just many many points of quality work. 

 

But I do think there is an 'ethos' behind the old master work that we can attempt to adopt.  Many of our 'comfortable assumptions' are inherited from later more commercialized approaches, and should be looked at skeptically, including many of the most generally accepted practices from school and trade sources.  The more we can put aside modern assumptions and viewpoint, the more we study and familiarize ourselves with the materials, aesthetics, and methods of old Italian industry and arts, the more we can put ourselves in their situations, the more we can steer ourselves toward confronting the same problems as they faced, while confining our solutions to the same pallet of resources they had, the better. 

 

Also, Stradivari might best be viewed as the exception, rather than the rule.  In many ways, Stradivari changes things up and doesn't represent a basic version of the common practices running more broadly through the old master work.  He changes the design in many little ways.  However, his nuances can always be seen as variations of the basic practice, not has whole-clothe inventions .  Still, the main traditions are harder to perceive and comprehend by studying Strad directly.  Better to study Italian and Cremonan making more generally, then look at Strad's special variations as extensions and refinements.  

 

In many ways, I find it more constructive to look at the Amati, Guarneri, and Ruggieri instruments as the core practice, and try to understand the principles that are common among these.  Then look at Seraphin, Montagnana, Zarlino, Maggini, etc trying to understand these, together with the core Cremonans, as variations on a larger overarching practice.  Then at last look again at Strad in terms of this larger context.

A big picture historian/"methodologist" after my own heart, David.

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David Beard, on 02 Mar 2014 - 9:53 PM, said:

" In many ways, I find it more constructive to look at the Amati, Guarneri, and Ruggieri instruments as the core practice, and try to understand the principles that are common among these.  Then look at Seraphin, Montagnana, Zarlino, Maggini, etc trying to understand these, together with the core Cremonans, as variations on a larger overarching practice.  Then at last look again at Strad in terms of this larger context.

A big picture historian/"methodologist" after my own heart, David.

 

 

 

Exaclty, why this fixation on Strad? I'd be happy to make an instrument anywhere near any Italian makers level.  Strad was a freak, he was the Coltrane. Why try to do that? Just get your Ben Webster on and be happy.

 

Sheesh.

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I have just opened this blog this morning. A bit of a shock! Because no replies were showing on my lap top, I thought that no-one had replied. Now I can see that it will take me a week to read what is here already. This morning I am taking my dog to the vet, so I will try and look tonight. In the meantime I hope that you are shooting each other down a bit. That is what this is for. And Don I am not averse to any ideas, whether science or practically based. I am always interested in what you have to say. My only thought is that they apparently managed it without too much fuss. Please bear in mind the freestyle way that del Gesù must have been working and the time, (or lack of it), that he had to spend on archings, thicknessing, tuning and the like. Cozio was not exactly complementary about his craftsmanship. And this is something that I have been very keen to stress over the years. He was great, but he was not spending time on details, because he appears not to have had that luxury.   

Whatever IT was; if IT ever existed it cannot have involved too much extra work on del Gesù’s part. And if you extend this idea to the 14-15 years old Pietro Testore, then questions really do arise. It is interesting to read what Charles Beare wrote about him in the Grove dictionary. He wrote, “He (Pietro) had possibly the clumsiest pair of hands that ever made a violin, and more often than not made an equally clumsy choice of wood”. 

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I hope your dog is ok.  

 

Hey I think this is for shooting each other down, but that you secretly have secrets to share and started this to confuse us into fighting about whether secrets actually exist so you can forestall giving up your actual real secrets. 

 

But I'm onto you and you can't make me fight over stuff I know is not secret so I am turning the subterfuge angle around on you and patiently waiting for you to crack from not being able to stand not telling the actual secret secrets. :)

 

I'm listening. 

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Okay, I'm going to throw something out to serve as target practice:

 

Mineral Ground.

 

My personal obervation of Strads and other top old italians I have played, is that when too much ground has been lost, through restoration and repair, they sound less special, lose that "silvery" ring that goes with the warmth, and even if they still sound good, tend to sound like good 19thc; Strad copies. (yes, a gross generalization, but it is a sincere impression)

 

Sacconi wrote that he felt the ground (even if his proposed recipes sound scary to me) stiffened the wood enough to allow it to be thinner than plates without a stiffening ground. That leads my thinking to the "reverse graduation" maps that are really at odds with most other violin-making traditions. 

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Roger, I know you are mostly interested in the "how they might have done it" historical theories.   I'm on the other end of the spectrum, interested in "how the good instruments work" from a physics point of view, with less concern about historical substance.

 

I do agree with Stephen, in that I think Strad was an amazingly good maker, and that trial-and-error development is far more effective than most people realize.  But I will put forth one not-quite-yet-a-theory about Strad.  I only have very limited information, and anyone with more information is welcome to shoot down this idea: for his "golden period", Strad got in a batch of really good wood.  After that period, the wood sucked.

The limited evidence I have is from Curtin's taptone article, which I plot here as taptone vs mass of the unbarred plate.  The faint gray lines are my violin tops, at various stages of lightening.

attachicon.gifM5 Tatone vs mass.jpg

 

The thing I noticed is that the instruments from 1726-1728 are all at the low end of the chart, and the single "golden period" instrument is on the high end.  In my estimation, if you started with the wood of the 1726-8 instruments, there is no way you can get the taptone and weight of the 1716 one.  The implied stiffness/weight of the wood is far different.

 

I will put out another theory:  the physical/acoustic properties of wood change with age.  Anyone who has been reading any of my stuff knows I'm trying to accelerate that time with thermal processing.  Whether it will result in consistently superior performance is still an open question, as is the question of what "superior performance" even means.

Some of your thinning steps removed weight while not changing the mode 5 frequency and these look like short horizontal lines in your plots.

 

This gives the same effect of using higher radiation ratio wood.  Maybe Strad simply used more of these kind thinning steps in his 1716 top.

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That leads my thinking to the "reverse graduation" maps that are really at odds with most other violin-making traditions.

What is a reverse graduation map?

Asking what is Strad's secret is like asking what is Leonardo Da Vinci's secret. Anyone can make a good copy of the Mona Lisa but it's still not going to be 'The' Mona Lisa

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When I asked one of my teachers what the secret to good violin making was he said something like, "I've seen all kinds of people with different theories about making come up with successful instruments.  Just pick something and believe in it."

 

!

 

(Amen brother. Strad's long gone.Thankfully, he didn't leave us his anything - other than violins, that is)

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