Andreas Preuss

Stradivari's secret was a concept?

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1 hour ago, carl1961 said:

After reading about everything on Stradivari, it is in his last year's that his most famous violins where made, that's after he done made over hundreds of instruments, so the secret is learning from you're work.

The last several years apparently weren't as good as those golden years, when he used up the good log.  My theory, anyway... and I think there's some evidence for it.

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7 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

The problem I am getting here with your answer is different. This is actually exactly my point: We always argue in the framework of our modern knowledge using words you are using: 'sound speed', 'e-modulus' and probably 'damping'. I am really asking myself if there was such an intent?

These makers of old Cremona surely didn´t know terms like "soundspeed" and other. Concerning these terms they couldn´t have any intents. But if there was any established  wood-treatment, then they surely knew, if it was of advantage for the sound of violins. Unless  two possibilities :

1) the sound-advantages didn´t occur immediately, but decades later. ( this I could imagine )

2) the treatment was used not only on tonewood, but on all wood. Then it was not possible to get untreated wood at all in these times and one couldn´t recognize the special benefits of the treatment concerning sound. ( seems unrealistic to me )

There also remains one more possibility : 

There was a commonly used procedure, but this was not of any concern for sound. Instead of this the old Cremonese makers had access to a superior quality of natural tonewoods. These tonewoods were superior because of properties outside of the normally measured simplified values of density/soundspeed/damping and therefore undiscovered until now.

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1 hour ago, Don Noon said:

he last several years apparently weren't as good as those golden years, when he used up the good log.  My theory, anyway... and I think there's some evidence for it.

That would be the lost  log cut down by the roman legions and floated down the river. It was discovered  after a storm by Stardivari after being  submerged for centuries :)

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I have a hard time accepting the "good log" theory. Among other things, it's dismissive. There is clearly a lot at play regarding why the instruments in question are special.

Some sort of wood curing process, perhaps unique to the town or the school of making, makes sense to me as a factor. It was probably dead simple, cleaving to the practices and materia of artisans generally. 

Even if the point was only to keep bugs out, that's good enough. I would guess, however, that dimensional stability was the goal, considering that was an important consideration for painters at the time in preparing wooden boards for their work. Wood moves! Why not try to limit it somewhat? 

This topic is destined for tangents. Sorry for contributing to that. Great stuff as always Andreas! You are adept at stirring the pot.

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I find it useful and often necessary to separate the theoretical of the elite from the mundane of everyday practice.  The builders of outhouses were not likely to have heard of Vitruvius, let alone own a copy, and if they did, they would have put it to a mundane use.  The elite for whom the copies of Vitruvius were printed may have only owned them to prove or improve their social status.  Scholars and artists who catered to the elite most likely relied on the libraries of their patrons.

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I agree with that, Addie.  But, Vitruvius wrote about building things and the crafts involved in a broader sense. So on one level he's reporting on various things that trained but otherwise uneducated craftsmen knew in Roman times. As you say, his audience probably mostly wasn't the average working painter -- but in part of his writings he discusses the common recipes for pigments that a trained painter would have known and used in Roman times.  

To me, it's very interesting that these same recipes are also seen in writings from the Italian Renaissance arts. It suggest that even though much broke down in the intervening centuries, still much knowledge and practice was continuous among active craftsmen.

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2 hours ago, Addie said:

The builders of outhouses were not likely to have heard of Vitruvius..............

Not necessarily.  What about the fellows who designed and built the lavish marble "Temple of Cloacina" at Medenham Abbey for Sir Francis Dashwood?  They obviously had their column orders down pat from somewhere. :)

And now that privies have been mentioned, could exposure to that environment over a period of time cause tonal improvement?  What if Tony's secret was where and what he scavenged his wood from?  :ph34r:

3 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

Great stuff as always Andreas! You are adept at stirring the pot.

And now we perhaps have a better idea of what type of pot we might be dealing with.  :lol:

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4 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

I have a hard time accepting the "good log" theory. Among other things, it's dismissive. There is clearly a lot at play regarding why the instruments in question are special.

Some sort of wood curing process, perhaps unique to the town or the school of making, makes sense to me as a factor. It was probably dead simple, cleaving to the practices and materia of artisans generally. 

Even if the point was only to keep bugs out, that's good enough. I would guess, however, that dimensional stability was the goal, considering that was an important consideration for painters at the time in preparing wooden boards for their work. Wood moves! Why not try to limit it somewhat? 

This topic is destined for tangents. Sorry for contributing to that. Great stuff as always Andreas! You are adept at stirring the pot.

 Jackson, 

i am the type of person who likes to question things to get new perspectives.

It is clear to me, if anyone of us would sit down with Antonio and have a conversation about violin sound we'd probably surprised how simple it is compared to what we do today. 

I am making the posts here on MN because I know there are many critical minds with very different background. And usually many people together can find out more than one alone. I am getting always interesting and mind twisting feedback.

I personally find the ideas of alchemy quite intriguing. I think I explained this above. 

We are trying to tell the material which shape we think is correct to perform the task of vibrating even though we know that each piece of wood (even from the same tree) is (a bit) different.

I see the alchemist approach just as the reverse. It is to find methods so that the piece of wood tells me what is the shape it feels most comfortable to perform the task of  vibrating. For this reason I am not surprised that Stradivari apparently never made any drawing of arching template.

 

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So, combining ingredients to get something more.   Is a cook a chemist or an alchemist? Neither. A cook is a cook.  But depending on a particular style, either the alchemist metaphor or the chemist metaphor might be a better fit.

I can go along with you as far as saying that alchemy is probably the better metaphor for classical violin making. But I still prefer to remember that alchemy was a real historical thing. And probably very far removed from the actual thoughts of those old makers.

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8 hours ago, Don Noon said:

The last several years apparently weren't as good as those golden years, when he used up the good log.  My theory, anyway... and I think there's some evidence for it.

There were multiple factors leading to a sort of 'decline'. But I doubt that the wood log was the major factor. If we look into the history of Italy at that time the economy got worse until the Aachen peace treaty in 1748. I would as well not exclude that the failing eye sight of the ageing Antonio played  a role.

 

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1 hour ago, David Beard said:

And [Alchemy was] probably very far removed from the actual thoughts of those old makers.

This is the question. Our thought frame is clearly science. We argue with amplitude, damping, calculated factors, spectra etc. 

i am sure makers in Cremona had their own thought frame, but I am asking myself how this looked like.  I have only the vague feeling that this hadn't anything to do with what we call today acoustics. 

In alchemie procedures describe the path to render things in their optimal golden state. Usually this uses 7 subsequent steps. The exampl I made with the materials(wood and varnish) is only one possible interpretation. For constructing an instrument there might be an idea of 7 subsequent procedures as well.

 

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2 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

There were multiple factors leading to a sort of 'decline'. But I doubt that the wood log was the major factor. If we look into the history of Italy at that time the economy got worse until the Aachen peace treaty in 1748. I would as well not exclude that the failing eye sight of the ageing Antonio played  a role.

 

Yes, there were lots of things going on. Doesn't matter who you are, the ability to accurately focus at varying distances declines with age. And the market for pricey instrument seems to have severely declined. Weren't there something like 20 instruments in Stradivari's inventory when he died?

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8 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Yes, there were lots of things going on. Doesn't matter who you are, the ability to accurately focus at varying distances declines with age. And the market for pricey instrument seems to have severely declined. Weren't there something like 20 instruments in Stradivari's inventory when he died?

There were enough instruments that Paolo Stradivari (?) hired Carlo Bergonzi for I don't know how many years to finish them. This fact also makes me think that Stradivaris concept was different from other makers in Cremona. 

I suspect some sort of 'part matching process where back and ribs with neck attached were 'waiting' for the matching top.

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I don't think the fitting paradigm is scientist, or philosopher, or alchemist. I see them as craftsmen or artisans, like a fine baker or cabinet maker.  Not even like a fine artist, poet, or author. More practical. Like a shoemaker or sword maker.  To me that's enough.

 

IMHO

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10 hours ago, Danube Fiddler said:

There also remains one more possibility : 

There was a commonly used procedure, but this was not of any concern for sound. Instead of this the old Cremonese makers had access to a superior quality of natural tonewoods. These tonewoods were superior because of properties outside of the normally measured simplified values of density/soundspeed/damping and therefore undiscovered until now.

I don't think so but what if, provocatively said, all those parameters don't matter to the degree we think?!

An example from my own experience. Not so long ago I made a copy with wood I thought is sub-optimal, because it was not split and a kind of heavy.  But when the instrument was finished it turned out to perform extremely well.

For another violin I chose the lightest most robust split material and when finished the violin didn't sound that great (and actually still sits in my workshop for making experiments now)

 

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After reading this article again (http://www.roger-hargrave.de/PDF/Artikel/Strad/Artikel_2011_06_Key_To_Expertise.pdf) There may not be guild system in Cremona to guard the craft like in Fussen or other German cities but the closed nature of the italian towns and violinmaking being largely family business (kind of violin mafia:-)) the Amati (Cremonese) system was still guarded.

It is like the old joke about cooking fish... little daughter asks mother why she cuts part of fish away from both ends, mother replies "my mom always done it" so they ask grandma, and get same answer, so they go to great-grandma and she says "well my pan is too short for fish, so I cut is shorter..."

Sometimes the tradition is deeply rooted and reason of doing even some simple steps gets lost and folks just do what they were taught. Same may be truth in Cremona where Andrea Amati set the rules of the geometry and building method but after the plague damaged the connection within family the later makers outside the family probably didn't know all the details of Andrea (all the ratios and stuff) and were more willing to experiment with shapes but still within the rigid methods.

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With all that R&D he (AS) must have done, one wonders, if there was any time left to carve the wood? Perhaps he was after all a clever manager and R&D director of his secret factory with a half of Cremona + county working for him?

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Since 2011, most my efforts have focused on digging out and chasing down all the details of geometry methods in Cremona making. I didn't find any big break in methods between families or generations. They're all cooking just the slightest variations on the same recipe. 

Moreover, of the methods, component by component, have antecedants in Italian string instrument making before A. Amati.

So overall it suggests extreme traditionality in methods. 

 

And no RandD, just tradition. And a little trial and error fine tuning from one instrument to the next.  But never going so far as to break tradition.

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2 hours ago, David Beard said:

I don't think the fitting paradigm is scientist, or philosopher, or alchemist. I see them as craftsmen or artisans, like a fine baker or cabinet maker.  Not even like a fine artist, poet, or author. More practical. Like a shoemaker or sword maker.  To me that's enough.

 

IMHO

I would agree if we would look on results which are just 'fine' and easy to reproduce. Other craftsmen like Lipot were in terms of craftsmsnship certainly not inferior but we can't really say that he produced the same results.

We have other riddles which could only be solved with alchemical knowledge. One of the most intriguing stories I read was the discovery of tyrenian purple by a scholar in that field, John Edmonds. First he figured out the consecutive procedures to make indigo blue. Based on this knowledge and rudementary explanations from Roman scriptures he could find the recipe. One essential step was to raise the salt content in the car to suppress bacteria, so just the same concentration as to make Parma ham. I found it actually most fascinating to read that when the cloth comes out of the cat it is first green(!) and with exposure to sunlight the purple color is developed. And this recipe came from Roman times. 

When it comes to the techniques to build a violin I agree that it is nothing more or less than in other professions, shoe maker, smith or cabinet maker. 

What I like about alchemy is that is  everything is done following a recipe. For violin making i would translate it to Process Oriented Sound Construction.

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11 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

I have a hard time accepting the "good log" theory. Among other things, it's dismissive. There is clearly a lot at play regarding why the instruments in question are special.

Some sort of wood curing process, perhaps unique to the town or the school of making, makes sense to me as a factor. It was probably dead simple, cleaving to the practices and materia of artisans generally. 

Even if the point was only to keep bugs out, that's good enough. I would guess, however, that dimensional stability was the goal, considering that was an important consideration for painters at the time in preparing wooden boards for their work. Wood moves! Why not try to limit it somewhat? 

This topic is destined for tangents. Sorry for contributing to that. Great stuff as always Andreas! You are adept at stirring the pot.

I agree Jackson, I don't believe he used special wood, just whatever good wood he could get. The density of the spruce he used varied a lot and I don't think it mattered much.

Regarding processing, maybe there was some soaking of the wood during transport to help avoid checking and perhaps this removed some of the sugars?

Regarding bug deterrents, doesn't turpentine and rosin serve that purpose? If you look at decaying spruce, the worms and beetles avoid the resinous parts of the trunk.

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32 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

What I like about alchemy is that is  everything is done following a recipe.

But where did the recipe originate? Often things are just result of happy accident. More often than folks want to believe. Think of Penicilin, Celluloid and many ancient discoveries before strict scientific research started (and often till now) that are result of pure chance.

Folks have burned tips of the fence posts for hundreds of years after they noticed that burned wood doesn't rot as fast. Now we have the torrefied wood for outside decking using the same concept... One could easily call it alchemy - use of fire but it's purely accidental.

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I agree with process oriented.  All the art methods in the soures I suggested are of the nature. My impression is that methods across the artisan crafts in Italy were of that nature.  But when you speak literally of alchemy there is always an additional aspect of philosophy, mystism, an even occult exploration. I just don't that aspect present in the art methods of the time. The art processes of the time don't give an impression of speculation toward higher purpose. Rather they just things known to work well a last, usually very well established and traditional. Some methods seemed to have been known and used for centuries or in some caes even thousands of years.

But to acknowledge part of your point, the descriptions of materia and process are at times like a descrption of a ritual. I think often it wasn't necessarily clearly understood which parts of a described process were essential, and which might be irrelevant to the outcome.  As with the earlier story of cutting the fish shorter.

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12 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

I have a hard time accepting the "good log" theory. Among other things, it's dismissive. There is clearly a lot at play regarding why the instruments in question are special.

I am not claiming that the "good log" theory is fact, but I have a hard time looking at this plot and not seeing something that looks like a pattern:

5ad745bfb6d23_Densityvsyear.jpg.eb297faf2540d29800c360d4fa2829da.jpg

4 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

I don't think so but what if, provocatively said, all those parameters don't matter to the degree we think?!

There are a lot of parameters that define the physical/acoustic properties of wood.  Infinite, in fact, when you consider that some vary with frequency.  In the end, the only things that define how a structure behaves are the geometry and these properties.  That's infinity squared variables, so sorting out what effects are derived from what variable is not going to be easy.  Density is only one variable.

1 hour ago, Andreas Preuss said:

What I like about alchemy is that is  everything is done following a recipe. For violin making i would translate it to Process Oriented Sound Construction.

You can have a recipe or a process for something, but if that is some externally-derived recipe that is fixed, I think it is a recipe for consistently poor results unless the recipe is magically mystically perfect as it has arrived from the gods.  For improvement, there has to be some allowance for variation or experimentation, and evaluation of what works and what doesn't, so the baseline recipe can be changed.

In other words, the simple old "trial and error".  It works.

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