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Stradivari's Secret


Roger Hargrave
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 I don't spend much time worrying about "secrets", probably because it will just lead to a low self-esteem. "how come they know, and i don't……" I'm trying to understand materials, use tools well, emulate the "master", and generally just do the best I can given what I have…Also using light/stiff wood and not letting anything sink into your wood in the varnishing process is probably a good idea.

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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.

 

Sometimes during thinning I work on one spot, then take a measurement.  Particularly if I thin out the center, the taptone tends to remain fairly constant... but I don't do that intentionally in order to look better on the plot.  It is possible that "reverse graduation" would indicate abnormally high radiation ratio, and some Cremonese might be this way.

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C'mon guys! Let's stop being philosophical (the secret is ther ain't no secret, know thyself, know thy wood pile etc.;)) and let's play the game Roger is inciting us to play. Anyone else experiment with Nagyvary's "first batch" of revelations? I tried soaking the wood in brine, and made some shrimp-shell chitin varnish, too! Of course, there I was experimenting with the secrets of Nagyvary more than the secrets of Stradivari, but hey, I thought he was on to something for a month or so...

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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...

Don,

 

I think your artificially aging wood is a half baked idea. 

 

Are you planning to reduce your time and temperature treatment to give just 7/16, 3/8, 1/4 ... baked ideas?

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Secrets....well I dunno

 

Certainly there are many unknowns.

 

I'm pretty sure that even despite what people who these days are considered experts or who consider themselves experts think they know, there would be a few surprises for all of us if we could travel back in time and spend a few months as a fly on the wall in Strad's workshop. 

 

Contemporary lutherie is highly indebted  to pioneers typified by Roger who have not just brought forward the state of knowledge but ensured it is put in the public domain.

 

If we knew everything wouldn't the adventure and fascination diminish?

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Anyone else experiment with Nagyvary's "first batch" of revelations?

 

Yeah, I tried a couple of them.  One seemed initially to yield some results, but later didn't.  I didn't try his most recent enzyme treatment.

 

There are other potential treatments such as fungus and some other chemicals, which may do something... however, in my research, the thermal treatment appears to have the most effect on wood properties, and with some oblique historical relevance in that the processes may be somewhat similar to what occurs at a much slower pace during natural aging.

 

I do look at all of the gazillion other prescriptions for greatness that come along, and most of them appear to ignore the available evidence that many of the good instruments do not meet the prescription, or there is a lack of phyisical/acoustic reality, which I feel qualified to judge upon.  I haven't found any that make sense, other than the idea of using really good wood, and fashioning it mostly along the lines of instruments that are known to work well (with a few tweaks of my own... to "improve" on Strad's deficiencies :rolleyes:... which I'll call my secrets for now, so I can keep them secret when they don't work out.)

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Don,

 

I think your artificially aging wood is a half baked idea. 

 

Are you planning to reduce your time and temperature treatment to give just 7/16, 3/8, 1/4 ... baked ideas?

 

Marty,

 

I disagree... I think it has for the most part been overbaked, and now reducing time and temperature to get to a fully baked idea.

 

Similarly, I think your viola designs are over-thought.  Are you planning on reducing your thinking to give a range from fully thought to thoughtless designs? :)

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I've tried pretty much everything Nagyvary, Fulton, Michelmann, etc. wrote about, and I wish sometimes in the treatment and varnish stages that I had had a master with his or her hand on my shoulder, making me do it one way, until I knew that one way well enough to master it. I can';t make three fiddles in a row without doing 12 different things in treatment and varnish.

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Good idea to distinguish secrets and myths.

Sacconi dealt with the secrets, and Roger expanded greatly on that with his working methods.

I'm personally interested in historical methods, and so with Roger's encouragement made measured drawings of Stradivari's tools, so others could make the tools that made the violins.

On the modern, scientific, quantitative side, I don't think there are secrets, just numbers that point us towards good practices, and away from poor ones. Of course, I have to admit I don't know my A0 from a hole in the ground. :)

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Marty,

 

I disagree... I think it has for the most part been overbaked, and now reducing time and temperature to get to a fully baked idea.

 

Similarly, I think your viola designs are over-thought.  Are you planning on reducing your thinking to give a range from fully thought to thoughtless designs? :)

No, I meant it literally.  I assume you're finding some time-temperature baking optimum between charcoal and untreated wood with some sort of trade-offs between color, damping, radiation ratio and brittleness.

 

Your process may or may not have been a Strad "secret" but it still could be very helpful for makers today.  On the other hand

I've seen Vin Santo wine stored in very hot attics and maybe some Old Italian makers may have stored their wood similarly.

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Aside from the wood,tools,model, Varnish ect. 

Strad could have had a highly functional form of autism that allowed him to be highly observant of what he was doing. working till late in life ,not caring to retire, would be an indication of little need for social interaction, so to would be the apparent lack of help,(excepting Omobono and Heronimous,)from his very large family. Many of the "greats" had or have some form of heightened mental facility ,currently deemed as a disability.....

Practices I have been encouraged to exercise,as advised by my "masters"

 Commitment & dedication

 Observation and detail

 critique of others and self

 practice

 learn and master basic technique.....  be humble to the work of others

 use the best materials and tools available

 push "it" up to the edge

 learn to learn

The really good stuff will have a tendency to stick on the brain.

an understanding of tolerance

Work quickly without hurry.

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At the time is may not have been a secret, but more like information only for those initiated into the trade, but the knowledge of how arching and edge treatment effects sound quality seem pretty important stylistically when shaping the sound. 

 

Stradivari was an exceptional maker because he was the recipient of two hundred years of knowledge, and he apparently worked very hard to push that knowledge further. If I were to prioritize what is the most important thing I could have direct from whomever relayed the information to Stradivari it would be the talks about the relationships between wood stiffness and density- edge development-  and arching- I would want the accumulated lessons of the Cremona school on how to think about those components and how they operate in the order of assembly. 

 

At some point Stradivari absorbed those concepts by way of a direct talk from another maker, or by making a violin and showing it to another maker who then said if you make it thicker here or there in relation to the arching this effect will happen. He shaped his sound by knowing some principles intrinsic to the order of assembly and some basic sonic theories the Cremonese school had figured out. Sonic theory means *if you scrape it here this is what happens*. 

 

It seems like other makers including del Gesu understood the same principles and applied them to a create a different sound. Is that a secret? It seem more like technique that was lost, the question is not what are the secrets but how to rediscover some basic knowledge. Or course others will prioritize the essentials  in a different order, but to me it seems like the relationships between edges and arching and wood quality is the salient matter. 

 

Shooting down of secrets aside, how do you judge that priority? 

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Speaking of secrets, any guesses on the magic ingredient (s) present in the sizing compound supposedly used by Stradivari? I don't like the idea of bare wood on any part of the instrument. So many great makers have shared their formulas, for which I am grateful.

However I am still curious: those of you who have seen many original instruments on the inside, did you always observe sizing?

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There is also the possibility that Stradivari did something without knowing he was doing it, so he didn't know the secret either.  That could include the materials used or some processing of those.  Obviously Stradivari would be a great maker without something like this, but it might be icing on the cake.

 

For example,  the idea—even making the pages of a serious teacher's book, Karl Roy—that wood may have been improved by how it was floated in transport.  I have never wanted to believe stuff like that, but when a Roy accepts the possibility I'll keep an open mind.

 

I'd like to know if anyone has disproven this possibility, so I don't have to buy a bucket. :)  

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