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Stradivari's Secret


Roger Hargrave

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.... I can only remember just so much of what I say or have said....

 

So, you don’t remember when you said:

 

 

Stradivari’s only secret was he knew how to make good violins, and you guys don’t... 

 

 

baeh-smiley.gif?1292867551

 

 

 

 

Creative editing by Addie   :ph34r:  :lol:

(nice to have you back, BTW)

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Roger,

I do not think that the "Cremonese ground" was done for beauty or to seal the wood from the varnish as we think of it today.  I think it was done to stabilize the wood by excluding ambient moisture....just a variation on the way wooden boats were treated with pitch and tar to waterproof the wood.  The beauty is a sideline benefit.

on we go,

Joe

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Roger,

I do not think that the "Cremonese ground" was done for beauty or to seal the wood from the varnish as we think of it today.  I think it was done to stabilize the wood by excluding ambient moisture....just a variation on the way wooden boats were treated with pitch and tar to waterproof the wood.  The beauty is a sideline benefit.

on we go,

Joe

Then why not put it on the inside too? or did they?

Are there Cremona violins that don't have 'the' ground ? and if so, which ones? Early ones or later ones or random ones? Just wondering what the history of the ground is, what's the first known use of it?

Dang! I loose track of where I find things on here. Somewhere there is a link showing Strad violins from early to late and how they changed over his career. There was some mention of ground there.

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Roger,

I do not think that the "Cremonese ground" was done for beauty or to seal the wood from the varnish as we think of it today.  I think it was done to stabilize the wood by excluding ambient moisture....just a variation on the way wooden boats were treated with pitch and tar to waterproof the wood.  The beauty is a sideline benefit.

on we go,

Joe

 

To me, this seems sort of on the right track.   I would think they did a 'ground' before the main finish mostly because virtually ALL art materials work of the time included a 'ground' between the substrata and the color work.   And one of the general functions of such 'grounds' was to provide stability and isolation.  But providing a uniform 'tooth' for the colors to lay down on, and building from 'light to dark' were also part of it.   

 

Writers like Cennini describe many variations for many situations, but always the same basic sequence:: 1) prep substrata, 2) build ground, 3) lay colors, 4) protect with varnish.   He describes this for stone, wall, wood panel, wood sculpture, cloth, leather, damp walls, gilding, etc.   Rather than as a completely unrelated and independent process, it seems likely to me that the old instrument makers would feel more comfortable and secure viewing their finish work as just another adaptation of the same general approach. 

 

In such discussions from the period, preparing the substrata generally meant smoothing, like scrapping the wood.  But often it also meant sizing.  And in a number of special cases, where extra protection from moisture or physical movement was needed, this preparation sometimes involve applying hot linseed oil.  This kind of 'sealing' was definitely not a substitute for the required 'ground' stage, just a preparation for it.

 

I very much doubt the earliest makers would have been either oblivious or immune to this basic sequence of structured layers.

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Roger,

I do not think that the "Cremonese ground" was done for beauty or to seal the wood from the varnish as we think of it today.  I think it was done to stabilize the wood by excluding ambient moisture....just a variation on the way wooden boats were treated with pitch and tar to waterproof the wood.  The beauty is a sideline benefit.

on we go,

Joe

Possibly,In antiquity The boat /violin varnish grounds having a common root and purpose,works in my book,if we were to ascribe a motive,to grounding ,other than building a base for finish layers,layers designed to protect the wood,most probably the primary and foremost use.was as a moisture repellant,after that dirt grim and abrasion,,, true  HOWEVER much like the geometric construction of violins , I think by the time" it",the ground, got to strad it was more of a history ,a how they developed , the practice does not seem to rigidly conform to the technique , or it's intended use. , Carlo's thread has me thinking that seeing the WOOD , highlighting the WOOD and using light colored woods,maple beech popplar.ect in fact allowed color to be directed, as in an... (dare I say it)... ART..... form of sorts.surly the optic qualities of flamed white wood ,maple ...not a walnut or cherry for instance were (I think) a driving factor in it's use in violins, therefore a craftpersons /artisans GOAL in selecting a ground would be to optimize those natural quantities,with optically good grounding<knowing the wood would be sealed against the elements in the process.

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Yes, but

 

 

 hmmm - does it matter what department you're blind in?

Speaking realistically, aren't we all equally "blind" with regard to our various guesses about what 'works' and what 'does not work', in regard to making violins "correctly" today?

- the decisions about what does, and what does not work, are fairly well simply individual, and are, in virtually all cases, not describing actually superior or inferior construction methods.

 - so I believe we can discuss how "blind" the blind are, but we are pretty well all in the same blind boat here. (with regard to "lost" Cremonese methods, at least)  And we should realize that mainly, the biggest difference that exists today, is correctly described fairly simply by experience, talent, and native abilities.

And the more we talk about these different things, the more we just essentially repeat what everything we've said before here, again and again ad infinitum.

Not that this is wrong, mind you - but I think that the different posters should realize what we are really doing, when we discuss these various intricate aspects of making.

 

The difference between making a violin-shaped box and making a violin with a sound worthy of a professional is summed up by three centuries of ignorance.

The reality of this thread –the secret is that there is no secret– resides simply in knowledge, know-how, and knowing how to communicate them. “Give us your secrets, if you have any!”

 

www.kreitpatrick.com

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Roger,

I do not think that the "Cremonese ground" was done for beauty or to seal the wood from the varnish as we think of it today.  I think it was done to stabilize the wood by excluding ambient moisture....just a variation on the way wooden boats were treated with pitch and tar to waterproof the wood.  The beauty is a sideline benefit.

on we go,

Joe

I absolutely agree. A surface treatment consists in slowing the rapid absorption or loss of moisture by the wood on new instruments, for such variation shifts the tuning frequencies and considerably decreases the acoustic qualities of the instrument. Even if the treatment on the inside of an old instrument’s sounding box has disappeared, it has been compensated by a loss of hemicellusose, thus reducing excessive absorption of ambient humidity. This is what gives the great Italian violins such stability.

 

www.kreitpatrick.com

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Roger Hargrave

" This method of starving trees was done for several reasons. The first being that it reduced the chance of insect attack, (yes I know that there were worms in classical instruments, but most of these must have been in the wood while it was alive). "

Unless I don't understand what you're saying, I certainly disagree. The only Italian makers that come to my mind who used wormy wood are from the 19th and 20th century, perhaps most famously papa Rocca and many of his followers. Every 17-18th c. Italian instrument that I can think of with worm damage are the result of infestation after completion.

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I absolutely agree. A surface treatment consists in slowing the rapid absorption or loss of moisture by the wood on new instruments, for such variation shifts the tuning frequencies and considerably decreases the acoustic qualities of the instrument. Even if the treatment on the inside of an old instrument’s sounding box has disappeared, it has been compensated by a loss of hemicellusose, thus reducing excessive absorption of ambient humidity. This is what gives the great Italian violins such stability.

 

www.kreitpatrick.com

Did the cremonesse  possess the instrumentation to discern air humidity to the levels you work with?,OR overtone/partials content ,were they able to control their work environment to the levels you propose? Assuming it was common knowledge why were so many re grads done? assuming a lower tension on baroque strings , would not even thinner grads have worked ?, were the baroque standards for tone the same as ours ? the pitch was lower? Would we consider a original baroque set up to have the same responsive qualities we expect today? or would the tone be sweeter yet more quiet? The idea that MC was strictly monitored and accounted for in tuning raw wood with out a MC meter .......?How ,? what magic is this ? Sure we can do this today ...but not in 1715

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I absolutely agree. A surface treatment consists in slowing the rapid absorption or loss of moisture by the wood on new instruments, for such variation shifts the tuning frequencies and considerably decreases the acoustic qualities of the instrument. Even if the treatment on the inside of an old instrument’s sounding box has disappeared, it has been compensated by a loss of hemicellusose, thus reducing excessive absorption of ambient humidity. This is what gives the great Italian violins such stability.

 

www.kreitpatrick.com

Patrick, Strads seem to be as vulnerable to ambient moisture conditions as most other instruments.

 

Have you yet furnished a "proof of concepts" instrument to anyone who posts here?  That might be a good first step, since there has never been any shortage of, "golly geez, I discovered how to make Strads". ;)

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Roger Hargrave

" This method of starving trees was done for several reasons. The first being that it reduced the chance of insect attack, (yes I know that there were worms in classical instruments, but most of these must have been in the wood while it was alive). "

Unless I don't understand what you're saying, I certainly disagree. The only Italian makers that come to my mind who used wormy wood are from the 19th and 20th century, perhaps most famously papa Rocca and many of his followers. Every 17-18th c. Italian instrument that I can think of with worm damage are the result of infestation after completion.

I'll agree with erroca. While bark ringing may reduce the chance of insect attack, how does infestation of pre-construction wood explain that most bore channels run parallel to the surfaces of the finished instruments?

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The ring barking of trees that Roger mentions with regard to his communications with Koen Padding remain highly interesting to me. Koen also mentioned his findings to me on this subject which had come from his extensive archival research. From what I remember it was focussed on records of Dutch  military  wood procurement but was very authorative and based around the historical time that interests us most. I also tried to get a wood supplier to cut a tree like this but the main reason for refusal was fear of insect attack on the standing dead tree. A while later the qualified forester and expert wood dealer Andreas Pahler just happened to come across a tree that looked right and had just died. I made a cello from this spruce 3 months after he felled it. As I recall wood from the same tree has gold medals in the hands of Pete Goodfellow if not others...it did not work like the usual stuff and was rather nice but this is just an experience, not a statistically viable piece of evidence.

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I do not know the name of the gentleman.

86718.JPG

Norberto Filibustieri who used the inside-outside double whammy form.

 

Nobody has yet suggested that Stradivari was from Krypton...... or from some other planet who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. OMG is that what the S on his leotards meant????  :blink:

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Patrick, Strads seem to be as vulnerable to ambient moisture conditions as most other instruments.

 

Have you yet furnished a "proof of concepts" instrument to anyone who posts here?  That might be a good first step, since there has never been any shortage of, "golly geez, I discovered how to make Strads". ;)

Ambient humidity conditions nowadays are the same as in 1700. In order to understand the concept, you must first purchase a moisture meter for wood.

 

www.kreitpatrick.com

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Ambient humidity conditions nowadays are the same as in 1700. In order to understand the concept, you must first purchase a moisture meter for wood.

 

www.kreitpatrick.com

Patrick, You need to do a bit more research on David Burgess....He like most violin guys who make our living in the businesses  have all the humidity measured already...

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Ambient humidity conditions nowadays are the same as in 1700. In order to understand the concept, you must first purchase a moisture meter for wood.

 

www.kreitpatrick.com

Sure,The concept is easy.... MC affect tone... Ambiant humidity fluctuates daily and seasonally,furthermore once the violin left the shop their was no control over ambient humidity, if the player even knew it existed. How would any maker build toward an unknown variable?like ambient humidly?  You might have a good system for making Strad like sounding violins( I'll just trust your word on that without having ANY vetting on that)  ,though it would be impossible for Strad and co to practice" it"without all the fancy gizmos,MC meters climate control ect,so it can't be their secret now can it?

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The ring barking of trees that Roger mentions with regard to his communications with Koen Padding remain highly interesting to me. Koen also mentioned his findings to me on this subject which had come from his extensive archival research. From what I remember it was focussed on records of Dutch  military  wood procurement but was very authorative and based around the historical time that interests us most. I also tried to get a wood supplier to cut a tree like this but the main reason for refusal was fear of insect attack on the standing dead tree. A while later the qualified forester and expert wood dealer Andreas Pahler just happened to come across a tree that looked right and had just died. I made a cello from this spruce 3 months after he felled it. As I recall wood from the same tree has gold medals in the hands of Pete Goodfellow if not others...it did not work like the usual stuff and was rather nice but this is just an experience, not a statistically viable piece of evidence.

 

In the Old World, two techniques were used to prevent sap from rising in the spring. Either a ring of bark was cut at the base of the tree, or the top of the tree was broken (during winter). The tree was dead, but this did not keep insects from attacking the wood, for they lodge first of all in the bark; afterwards, they infest the wood. These methods have not persisted for they were too aleatory.

 

www.kreitpatrick.com

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Patrick, You need to do a bit more research on David Burgess....He like most violin guys who make our living in the businesses  have all the humidity measured already...

Perfect! When you construct a violin, what is the moisture content of your wood?

 

I have no desire to offend you, but I conduct my research in violin acoustics, not on Burgess.

 

www.kreitpatrick.com

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