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Stradivari's Secret


Roger Hargrave

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OK I am playing catch up here. So this is what I am answering so far without having yet read all the answers. However I am beginning to get the feeling (as Carl suggests) that everyone is hanging back a little. A few nice points have been raised.

Berl mentions a mineral ground. This was apparently what we could see when Barlow took those famous microscopic photos back in the early 1980’s (?). However, talking to Brigitte, she dismisses this; certainly in the thickness that Barlow showed. This does not mean that it was not used. When I use it, (described on the bass making blog) it has very little (almost no) thickness. My experience as I said on the blog is that the sound of my instruments was vastly improved; especially their carrying power. It does not seem to matter much which mineral is used. This may not be ‘the secret’, but it works for me.

Addie try tampons for your nose bleed. When I played rugby our trainer used them all the time.

Matthew, a nice answer.

Fiddlesurgen, Ooohw, sound a bit ethereal.

Stephen, even as an Englishman I know who Babe Ruth was. This is a very legitimate theory and I suggest that in future we should all refer to it as the ‘Babe Ruth theory’.

Not Telling is not telling us enough. Would he like to expand this theory? Has he/she tried it? I tried it some time back and it certainly lightened the wood. I also know that on the quiet one or two American makers have tried this. Anyone willing to say? My experience was inconclusive. On the whole I found it a bit extreme and I did not like the feel of the wood while it was being worked. But it was a long time ago and perhaps I did not do it right. Your mrntion of the ‘Craftmans Handbook’ is worth repeating. It’s a great read and it is where I got the idea to try boiling. It must be available on line today?

Viloadamore, as Roddy Doyle says, ‘You’re a gasman!’ ‘You may even be a genius!’ I said that!

Don, always interesting, but I am not sure that these statistics tell us anything more than the fact that Strads instruments present a wide variety of results. Moreover we are not, cannot, (in spite of the topic title) just be talking about Strad here. And I am not sure about your thermal process. Vuillaume and the Hills tried this with little success, but perhaps your process is less extreme. Someone mentioned seasoning under a hot roof, but I would guess that freshly cut timber would suffer from such treatment. Don’t forget that it was never very old when it was being used.

Just old age has also being mentioned. Well I love to use old wood, but there are thousands of old instruments out there. Are they all good?

Christopher! Let’s hear all about it.

Will L! if there was some form of ‘tuning’ it can only have been done from the outside, when the fluting was being cut. Unfortunately, the surviving relics suggest that they worked to more or less fixed thicknesses. (Blocks of wood that represented the finished thicknessing in the edges.

Mdaddona, there is undoubtedly some truth in this.

David, these are wise words.

Torbjörn what can I say? Except that I thought the movie was crap! You’ve come up with many better theories. I see you as one of the real thinkers, so come on let’s hear it.

Membasta! Correct but are not many modern makers capable of doing most of that stuff? By the way, that’s a serious question.

Christian bayon! Sounds fair enough. As someone else said, if it works for you! But I note that you use an Andrea Amati (the macdaddy of them all), as your call sign so those guys must mean something to you?

Mdaddona, in Duane Rosengards book he describes the trials and tribulations of Guadagnini, as his city was surrounded by the French army. (Those awful French!) He was bombarded and lost members of his family and remarried and got taken to court and was starved almost to death and still produced his quota of instruments.

James yes, but there are ways and ways of water seasoning wood. It was a fairly common to anchor wood under water in fast flowing streams. Not to mention transporting wood this way. Then there are the many theories of bacteria being used (either by accident or design). Who knows? I was expecting some theories about these things.

Peter this is all possible, but if I have understood you correctly, not if you had the body closed before you finished the thicknessing (as Strad did).

Oh! I just read David’s comments. Lots of juicy stuff but it sounds as if these are all chapter headings for a book. You clearly have something to say and it sounds to me that you have thought this all through very methodically. Go on David, write it.

As I posted Carlo's picture just came up. What to say?

Perhaps that is the real secret.   Stradivari had more things that worked for him.   Others had less, and some had things that worked against.

Impossible to spot because the affects are so small and numerous that any one alone does not stand out.

So if you take away one, or two or more, the instrument is not ruined, while someone with less things that work might be in trouble at say three things removed.

So a regraduated Strad might survive because there is a mineral ground.   Another Strad might not because there was no mineral ground, and it got regraduated.    The groundless instruments of the Paris museum may have escaped being regraduated.

Some instruments may have ran across repair work that added to those numerous little things that work.

 

I think the sum of all these tiny things are called by the French "Je ne sai quois", and as a "I know not what" it cannot be known since it really is a combination of elements that varies from instrument to instrument, maker to maker.

 

Tout Fini

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I have a difficult time believing foresters of the era did extensive bark ringing and tree topping. The results could have been catastrophic for forests in terms of insects, bacteria, viruses attacking the trees and killing off large sections of forest.  Or if they did they did not care. Today we tend to think we moderns are the only ones who have deforested lands, but in prehistory and premodern times it happened over and over in areas where there were high density populations lived near forests. The fact that foresters are hesitant to do it today tells me there are some pretty good reasons not to do it.

 

Maybe they did, but it does not sound right. 

 

The other fallacy is that finish protects instruments from moisture absorption, thats a good one. Tell me more and I'll show you my favorite meme with Gene Wilder. 

post-69241-0-59332100-1394066737_thumb.jpg

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Regarding plate boiling I have not done it. I boiled bass bar stock. Actually did not even boil it! Kept it between 180 and 190 until it sank. Took 4 weeks. Then dried it 3 days on lowest oven setting with the door cracked...then another few days on hot radiators in the house. Maple is supposedly opposite: quick to sink, slow to dry.

And you don't let it really sink. When it is barely submerged it is done being in the water.

On the inside it looked like it had been in the sun 5 months.

I like the result.

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I think that there is no secret to violin making. Its just the laws of the golden ratio that make the harmony. Why is the golden ratio so beautiful in nature? In the leaves of the trees, in the shell of the snail. Everywhere. Probably because the golden ratio is the math of God. The same applies for the violin. My personal theory is that Stradivari had a dream and a heavenly angel appeared to him in his dream and told him what to do. The violin is a copy of the violins used by the angels in haven(this I learned from a spiritual teacher and I do believe that this is indeed the case). 

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I've heard that it is possible that by chance sometimes a factory made violin happens to sound very good. There are no secrets to factory made violins. Why would a VSO sound good then? Of course the wood matters and other factors. But I think that the geometry of the ratios is the most important factor.

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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.

 

Sorry no! There are several Strads with original worm patches. These have original varnish over the patches. I admit that this is extremely rare, but I have cut and seasoned wood myself that has had wood worm attack on the inside that was present in the growing tree. The Tuscan viola is probably the most famous example. 

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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.

 

 

Oh come on ct! We are (almost) an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters (keyboards). At some point one of us will come up with something new. I will be very disappointed if it is the complete works of Shakespeare; it’s already on my shelf.  

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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 am not sure that I agree entirely. As much as the need for the wood to be protected and as Carl says, to provide a key for what was placed on top, they were also well aware that the wood needed to shine through. I always think of those Andrea Amati decorated instruments that were, (for the time), painted in a conventional way. Had the appearance of the wood not been relevant, they would have prepared the ground as painters of the time prepared their wooden panels. That is with an opaque gesso. It is quite clear that this was not the case. They were certainly sealed. This is clear because no paint has penetrated the wood; not even the black paint which is always so fine that it gets in everywhere. Under this paintwork the wood is as reflective as it is on the unpainted areas. Does this make sense? I'm not sure if I have explained myself correctly. 

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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:

 

I am always surprised with the speed wonderful facts given by great makers gets ignored here at MN. I think Bruce is onto something.  Addie any data on this in the del Gesù Code? :ph34r:

 

On the hygrometer, one interesting connection with the fiddle, from a 1728 edition.

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I have a difficult time believing foresters of the era did extensive bark ringing and tree topping. 

 

Oh I am sorry to tell you that they certainly did use this ring barking method. It is well documented. I am not sure if this method was employed for tone wood production but the reason that this interested Koen and I was that quite apart from insect protection; the wood was considerably lighter in weight, and not just a few percentage points.

By the way I was not trying to suggest that Strads are tonally superior. I don't know that. But they are still the greatest, with the Amati family taking the prize for esthetics.   

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I am always surprised with the speed wonderful facts given by great makers gets ignored here at MN. I think Bruce is onto something.  Addie any data on this in the del Gesù Code? :ph34r:

 

On the hygrometer, one interesting connection with the fiddle, from a 1728 edition.

 

Yes, I have an early 18th century encyclopedia which describes a very similar hygrometer. BUT, since you are so good at finding all this stuff, how about ring barking to create tone wood? I have searched, but the lack of indexes makes this difficult. And of course 18th century references are almost too late.

Just out of interest do you keep your extensive library on your boat? 

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Sorry no! There are several Strads with original worm patches. These have original varnish over the patches. I admit that this is extremely rare, but I have cut and seasoned wood myself that has had wood worm attack on the inside that was present in the growing tree. The Tuscan viola is probably the most famous example. 

What is the evidence that the original patch on the Tuscan was due to worm damage in the raw wood, as opposed to some other wood defect, or a maker blooper?

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We evidently need theese kind of threads here every now and then, thank you Roger. And who knows in 15-20 years or so, you can all make Strad sounding violins like I do. For now you are stuck with copying only the look ;)

http://www.thestradsound.com/home/modal-goal---strad-average

 

Fight on :)

 

I'll tune some Strads in the meantime.

 

Peter

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We evidently need theese kind of threads here every now and then, thank you Roger. And who knows in 15-20 years or so, you can all make Strad sounding violins like I do. For now you are stuck with copying only the look ;)

http://www.thestradsound.com/home/modal-goal---strad-average

 

Fight on :)

 

I'll tune some Strads in the meantime.

 

Peter

 

I think you should tone down the attitude by a few notches. All I hear from you is numbers and vague statements and I am getting a distinct impression you couldn't tell a Strad from a Gliga.

It would be really nice if you'd stop posturing so much. 

 

And please, let's hear a sound clip with one of your "Strad sounding violins". Absent some pudding, there is no proof, only delusions.

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Oh I am sorry to tell you that they certainly did use this ring barking method. It is well documented. I am not sure if this method was employed for tone wood production but the reason that this interested Koen and I was that quite apart from insect protection; the wood was considerably lighter in weight, and not just a few percentage points.

 

By the way I was not trying to suggest that Strads are tonally superior. I don't know that. But they are still the greatest, with the Amati family taking the prize for esthetics.   

 

Ring barking is more generally known in forestry as girdlinghttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girdling  Googling on "girdling" will produce a large number of publications on it, but here are some you might want http://dspace.hil.unb.ca:8080/bitstream/handle/1882/246/MQ54653.pdf?sequence=1. http://web.utk.edu/~mtaylo29/files/stem%20girdling.pdf

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Ring barking is more generally known in forestry as girdlinghttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girdling  Googling on "girdling" will produce a large number of publications on it, but here may be the ones you might want http://dspace.hil.unb.ca:8080/bitstream/handle/1882/246/MQ54653.pdf?sequence=1. http://web.utk.edu/~mtaylo29/files/stem%20girdling.pdf

 

Ring barking is more generally known in forestry as girdlinghttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girdling  Googling on "girdling" will produce a large number of publications on it, but here may be the ones you might want http://dspace.hil.unb.ca:8080/bitstream/handle/1882/246/MQ54653.pdf?sequence=1. http://web.utk.edu/~mtaylo29/files/stem%20girdling.pdf

Take the amount of time it takes to bark the rings on a tree, divide the length of  this vid by that number, and I'll bet you could get through a goodly forest of Alpine spruce.

 

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what are thoughts on ....The MB mold...?

I have the Pollens Forms of Strad book,looking closely at the MB form it is very different from the rest. square corner block recess',sharp edges, no layout for rib heights,very few tool marks,no relief holes on the top and bottom block recess', even the lettering MB seems by another hand,compared to the other B's .... is it possibly from Niccolo's shop? I see an evolution in his forms ..each one seems to incorporate some modification, small changes, indicating he was not satisfied with status quot.always striving for better.

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Oh come on ct! We are (almost) an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters (keyboards). At some point one of us will come up with something new. I will be very disappointed if it is the complete works of Shakespeare; it’s already on my shelf.  

 

OK Roger... I think you post jokes often, and are aware of how close to the truth you're being.

Yes, that's why I'm here, to also be one more monkey at yet another keyboard (fingerboard). But I do realize that I'm simply another monkey, dealing with all the other monkeys here.

 

Come up with something new? Let me think about that one for a while...

...

...

 

No, not from this checkpoint, I'm afraid.  At least, not yet.

But - we'll wait and see.

Hey, you may be right!

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