Bruce Tai

Secrets in the wood (Stradivari's maple)

Recommended Posts

sospiri   
19 minutes ago, martin swan said:

Classical players spend much of their time sitting around with their desk partners trying to think of something to talk about.

Violin one-upmanship is the first topic that comes to mind ...

There are, curiously no violin snobs in my local orchestra. Is this a purely provincial phenomenon? Are we rustic types too lacking in sophistication to understand the finer nuances of the instrument? Or are we just unpretentious?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Don Noon   
11 hours ago, David Beard said:

When I 'try' an instrument or bow, I'm only partially interested in how it sounds. And not at all in a passive sense of wanting to hear 'its' sound.    I'm much more interested in the experience of playing it.  What can I do on this instrument, and how readily?   Can I articulate on it?  Does it play well across the high positions?  Are the different colors associated with playing distance from the bridge well placed and readily playable?  Are harmonics readily accessible?  Can I move the instrument between bright and dark sounds?  Can it play brilliant? Can it play warm( more correctly can I on this instrument)?   Can I sound double stops and chords with a well bodied tone?  Etc.

3 hours ago, martin swan said:

Possibilities for musical expression - that is ultimately what people buy/choose.

2 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Me too. The paper on the Paris experiment mostly focused on playing impressions of the soloists. However, it has been criticized for not putting  more emphasis on listener impressions. Danged if ya do, and danged if you don't.

With my limited playing skills and minimal demands on the instrument for what I play, tone tends to be what I focus on when I can't get an evaluation by a good player.  But that is why it is so important to get good players to put the instruments through their paces, and find out what they are looking for.

When asked for an evaluation of my violin, the really good player who owns it said, "It does what I want it to do."  While that is totally opaque to analyzing response plots and other objective attacks on the "good violin" issue, it is reality and supports the quotes above.  Ah, good... another incredibly complex issue to work on.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/9/2017 at 11:26 PM, David Burgess said:

Nor can you disconnect the violin from prior knowledge of the maker of the instrument, or prior knowledge of whether the instrument is new or old, or visuals, unless the testing is "blind" or "double-blind".

 

4 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Me too. The paper on the Paris experiment mostly focused on playing impressions of the soloists. However, it has been criticized for not putting  more emphasis on listener impressions. Danged if ya do, and danged if you don't.

 

2 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Nevertheless, it's interesting to note how some of their opinions can be different, when they don't have prior knowledge of what they are playing.

 

1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

It makes ownership of a Strad or Guarneri even more appealing. Even a virtual "nobody"  can get backstage access just about anywhere, and get a lot of attention, if they bring a Strad or Guarneri for the musicians to mess around with.

Parties too. Woohoo! :D

No. I don't think you have an agenda here... :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, sospiri said:

There are, curiously no violin snobs in my local orchestra. Is this a purely provincial phenomenon? Are we rustic types too lacking in sophistication to understand the finer nuances of the instrument? Or are we just unpretentious?

No. It's just that you are blessed. I've seen horrible violin snobbery in a couple of first line orchestras...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, carl stross said:

No. I don't think you have an agenda here... :)

Do you think I've said anything speculative, untruthful, or that I can't solidly support?

Yes,  in am in favor of seeing what can be revealed by double-blind testing. It is well validated in the research community, and I shouldn't need to elaborate on the reasons. Most people are already familiar with things like the placebo effect, and how label or price tag switching altered taster impressions, in wine tasting tests

.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
36 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Do you think I've said anything speculative, untruthful, or that I can't solidly support?

Yes,  in am in favor of seeing what can be revealed by double-blind testing. It is well validated in the research community, and I shouldn't need to elaborate on the reasons. Most people are already familiar with things like the placebo effect, and how label or price tag switching altered taster impressions, in wine tasting tests

.

I would find it interesting and useful if a test were held where the violins were deliberately misidentified to both the players and the listeners. :)  Wouldn't that be a hoot! :lol:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, Violadamore said:

I would find it interesting and useful if a test were held where the violins were deliberately misidentified to both the players and the listeners. :)  Wouldn't that be a hoot! :lol:

Yes. I happen to own a good-qaulity Strad copy with a Strad label. It's been fun. ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
38 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Do you think I've said anything speculative, untruthful, or that I can't solidly support?

Yes,  in am in favor of seeing what can be revealed by double-blind testing. It is well validated in the research community, and I shouldn't need to elaborate on the reasons. Most people are already familiar with things like the placebo effect, and how label or price tag switching altered taster impressions, in wine tasting tests

.

No and I didn't say that. But you're decidedly in the "new" camp.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Violadamore said:

I would find it interesting and useful if a test were held where the violins were deliberately misidentified to both the players and the listeners. :)  Wouldn't that be a hoot! :lol:

No, it wouldn't be. Done MANY MANY times. People who know violins will pick up the good ones, whatever they are. A "Strad" is a violin ability. A new violin can be a "Strad" just as well. 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, carl stross said:

No and I didn't say that. But you're decidedly in the "new" camp.

Actually, I don't have a dog in that fight. I love good old violins, am not hurtin' for business in the least, and have been discouraging additional commissions. Twice just in the last week. Oops, three times.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, David Burgess said:

Actually, I don't have a dog in that fight. I love good old violins, am not hurtin' for business in the least, and have been discouraging additional commissions. Twice just in the last week.

Well, you surely sound like you have. I don't mind that - quite the contrary. Without people with big dogs in the fight nothing moves forward. Which in Classical Music means stays the same. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, sospiri said:

There are, curiously no violin snobs in my local orchestra. Is this a purely provincial phenomenon? Are we rustic types too lacking in sophistication to understand the finer nuances of the instrument? Or are we just unpretentious?

Violin-upmanship is most prevalent amongst people who have been to a conservatoire that has a collection of Italian violins that they lend out to worthy students.

It's also encouraged by foundations, trusts and syndicates that lend fine violins to worthy young professionals or help them to buy instruments on the never never.

Outside of that very competitive hothouse milieu, you probably see less of it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, martin swan said:

In all my time selling violins, I never heard "So do you have anything that sounds amazing but is half the price ...?".

That could be arranged.  Where did you say your shop is located?  Maybe I could round up some friends as well, or even put together a bargain-hunting "package tour".  Scotland followed by a trip to Mirecourt, then the Markneukirchen/Luby area for historical interest, and ending in the the Vienna suburbs, .........has possibilities.  :ph34r:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/10/2017 at 2:18 PM, Bruce Tai said:

 

Great point. Weathering involving liquid water, light, and temperature cycles can indeed cause many changes in wood. When multiple factors are combined, the chemistry is far too complex for scientists to investigate using current technologies. Unfortunately, wood is one of the most complex composite organic materials out there. We understand so little even after 100 years of research.  Varnish will block most of the UV, I think, making photoreactions much less likely. Lignin is surely going to turn yellow with light exposure over many years.  

Therefore, if age is a factor in tonal quality and hemicellulose degradation is a significant part of the aging process, then this degradation is both a constant and a totally random event.

on we go,

Joe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
HoGo   
2 hours ago, joerobson said:

Therefore, if age is a factor in tonal quality and hemicellulose degradation is a significant part of the aging process, then this degradation is both a constant and a totally random event.

on we go,

Joe

What about violins made out of realy old wood? There are/were violinmakers who bought wood from destroyed or restored historical buildings for their violins.

BTW, does the "dead" heartwood inside living tree undergo the hemicellulose degradation as well?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes there are a number of makers who have used very old wood. Leandro Bisiach springs to mind - his violins are a real mixed bag tonally. The Vollers sometimes used old wood - same story. And various lesser makers ... quite a few of the Bisiach circle I think.

It's quite rare for sapwood to feature in a violin - some spruce tops contain a proportion of sapwood (particularly on Cremonese instruments) but maple sapwood isn't used. As a general rule all violin wood is heartwood.

Using 300 year old wood is not a sure fire recipe for success. But this would be obvious to anyone who has played hundreds of  300-year old violins, since for every one that has superb tonal qualities there are 9 (maybe even 99) that are clapped out and are highly unbalanced.

The one possibility that intrigues me in Bruce's research is that we might find a class of violin whose wood is 300 years old, but where hermicellulose degradation has in some way been arrested by mineral insecticides or fungal treatment. Is it possible that the wood of Cremonese instruments has been degraded in a very specific way? But without a comparative study of many non-Cremonese instruments, I don't see how we could advance that hypothesis. And even if we could prove the hypothesis, it would be impossible to reproduce in modern instruments.

So we might discover that the superiority of Cremonese instruments (alleged) was both accidental and impossible to emulate. No-one would like that ...!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, HoGo said:

What about violins made out of realy old wood? There are/were violinmakers who bought wood from destroyed or restored historical buildings for their violins.

BTW, does the "dead" heartwood inside living tree undergo the hemicellulose degradation as well?

Again a matter of the life of the wood.  The changes in the hemicellulose we are talking about are a function of exposure to visible light

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, joerobson said:

Therefore, if age is a factor in tonal quality and hemicellulose degradation is a significant part of the aging process, then this degradation is both a constant and a totally random event.

on we go,

Joe

I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is ever "totally random".

Some colorants are much more light'-fast than others, and various sort of pigments and dyes have varying UV-blocking properties. And there are modern ingredient additives which have been been specifically formulated for the purpose of retarding light degradation.

Sure, whether one uses sacrificial UV absorbers, or blockers, your light-curing varnish will take longer to dry. Maybe a lot longer.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In general, the various 'accidental effects in the wood supply' theories don't really track for me.    It seems that the 'success' of classical making was community specific, and continuous across many generations.   During those centuries of successful making you see quite a range of wood choice, and finishing choices.  But a more or less constant continuing general success in the making.   To me, that suggests the success was based on the things the did intentionally across generations, not random sporadic accidents with the wood supply.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And it doesn't suggest anything as simple as just aging.   After all, that happens to all violins made everywhere, and doesn't get at the community and region specific differences in success.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, David Beard said:

And it doesn't suggest anything as simple as just aging.   After all, that happens to all violins made everywhere, and doesn't get at the community and region specific differences in success.

Whatever they were doing, it worked superbly.

Something I wonder about, when Cremona was in it's heyday, it was just one center of violin making among many, no few people preferred Stainers, etc., and while Cremona was respected, it wasn't the absolute navel of the violin world.   Strads and GDG's didn't become the "world's greatest violins" until sometime in the next century.   Could they have discovered a "secret", and never even known it? :huh:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, David Beard said:

In general, the various 'accidental effects in the wood supply' theories don't really track for me.    It seems that the 'success' of classical making was community specific, and continuous across many generations.   During those centuries of successful making you see quite a range of wood choice, and finishing choices.  But a more or less constant continuing general success in the making.   To me, that suggests the success was based on the things the did intentionally across generations, not random sporadic accidents with the wood supply.

I'm thinkin' it was more of a money thing. After four generations of high-end violin making, supply had pretty much met demand. But there was still a market for cheaper stuff, so makers followed the market. When the market situation improved enough (partly from the escalation in price of the older instruments, which had found a place in the antiques and collectibles market, and partly because countries like Japan and Korea and China brought more buyers into the mix) makers started producing higher quality stuff again. Not so much a "mysterious secret" thing, as economics.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Don Noon   
15 hours ago, HoGo said:

What about violins made out of realy old wood? There are/were violinmakers who bought wood from destroyed or restored historical buildings for their violins.

13 hours ago, joerobson said:

Again a matter of the life of the wood.  The changes in the hemicellulose we are talking about are a function of exposure to visible light

Or oxygen. Or moisture.  Or cycling of moisture.  Or whoknowswhat.

What I do know is that the sample of 300 year old Italian spruce sent to me that was cut from an old beam did not show anything other than normal wood properties:  it was translucent like modern wood*, and the EMC was the same as modern wood.  It was neither opaque nor lower in EMC, so this indicates that thin violin wood ages differently from wood in a solid beam, or (by inference) in a standing tree.

*(edit) - The old wood was slightly tan, similar to modern wood that has been aged a decade or two.  It wasn't the blinding white, nearly-clear wood that you can find in freshly cut trees.  Similarly, the speed of sound was a bit better than the  average of random modern spruce samples, but nothing outstanding.  Full details are here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Don Noon said:

Or oxygen. Or moisture.  Or cycling of moisture.  Or whoknowswhat.

What I do know is that the sample of 300 year old Italian spruce sent to me that was cut from an old beam did not show anything other than normal wood properties:  it was translucent like modern wood, and the EMC was the same as modern wood.  It was neither opaque nor lower in EMC, so this indicates that thin violin wood ages differently from wood in a solid beam, or (by inference) in a standing tree.

 

Interesting. I used 300 year old spruce from the same kind gentleman  (I think) but from a different building (i think) to make a fiddle earlier this year. Whilst I wouldn't describe it as opaque, it definitely transmitted light less well than modern wood of similar thickness and density (i routinely monitor light transmission during thicknessing as a quick way to see what's going on). 

I also found that it tanned more easily than the wood I normally use. But then again, modern spruce from different sources (even when nominally of the same species) can show such variation. Spruce from Andreas Pahler always seems particularly keen to tan.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/11/2017 at 8:04 PM, David Burgess said:

I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is ever "totally random".

Some colorants are much more light'-fast than others, and various sort of pigments and dyes have varying UV-blocking properties. And there are modern ingredient additives which have been been specifically formulated for the purpose of retarding light degradation.

Sure, whether one uses sacrificial UV absorbers, or blockers, your light-curing varnish will take longer to dry. Maybe a lot longer.

David,

Random in the sense that each instrument has a complex history.

Joe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.