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Stradivari's secret was a concept?


Andreas Preuss
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On ‎6‎/‎9‎/‎2018 at 7:09 AM, Jerry Pasewicz said:

paying attention to lessons learned from the past with humble ears saves decades of stubborn denial due to basic misunderstanding

Stubborn denial is stubborn denial, no doubt about it. But there are always things to be improved and developed. Rene developed the plaster cast idea against the Sacconi method which used only counterparts carved of wood, he had the idea of doing the raise pitch without opening the istrument etc.

Some masters have the tendency to put a negative judgement on new ideas of their students because they see their own ideas attacked. In no better defense they are trying to put their students in the corner of stubborn denial. 

I think the human mind is inquisitve by its nature and this is IMO a good thing. The bigger problem of humans is to admit ones own failure and recognize it quick enough not to continue on  somehting which doesn t go anywhere.

I put this thread up to get a bigger view of the picture, which I think is necessary to get a framework of everything we are doing. A good concept is based on experience, which is actually the factor to avoid the "stubborn denial effect" but  at the same time leaves room to explore in certain limits altered approaches. If makers in the past had strictly without questioning followed the ht ideas of their masters we would still make only the Andreas Amati, da Salo type of istruments.

The right balance between new ideas and doable results seems to be the best blend.

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42 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Stubborn denial is stubborn denial, no doubt about it. But there are always things to be improved and developed. Rene developed the plaster cast idea against the Sacconi method which used only counterparts carved of wood, he had the idea of doing the raise pitch without opening the istrument etc.

Some masters have the tendency to put a negative judgement on new ideas of their students because they see their own ideas attacked. In no better defense they are trying to put their students in the corner of stubborn denial. 

I think the human mind is inquisitve by its nature and this is IMO a good thing. The bigger problem of humans is to admit ones own failure and recognize it quick enough not to continue on  somehting which doesn t go anywhere.

I put this thread up to get a bigger view of the picture, which I think is necessary to get a framework of everything we are doing. A good concept is based on experience, which is actually the factor to avoid the "stubborn denial effect" but  at the same time leaves room to explore in certain limits altered approaches. If makers in the past had strictly without questioning followed the ht ideas of their masters we would still make only the Andreas Amati, da Salo type of istruments.

The right balance between new ideas and doable results seems to be the best blend.

I mostly agree.  My point being, to learn and understand the the lessons from the past BEFORE the new ideas, and not dismissing them out of ignorance.  

“Some masters have the tendency to put a negative judgement on new ideas of their students because they see their own ideas attacked. In no better defense they are trying to put their students in the corner of stubborn denial.“

This I disagree with strongly. It is way more likely that the student believes this to be the case out of lack of experience or maturity, and is exactly the complaint you will hear from lazy students throughout primary school to describe the teachers in subjects they have not yet resigned themselves to putting in the work to learn.  Someone worthy of the term “master” In my view is a teacher that has every desire to have students surpass her/his expertise in the field, and sees the teaching as an essential part of that expertise which also needs to be mastered.

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2 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Some masters have the tendency to put a negative judgement on new ideas of their students because they see their own ideas attacked. In no better defense they are trying to put their students in the corner of stubborn denial.

Some of that goes on, I'm sure, with some teachers.

I liked to take a more pragmatic than dogmatic approach. When a student or employee came up with a different or unusual idea, I'd suggest that they try it (as long as it wasn't something with the potential to damage a customer instrument). Then, we'd compare the outcome with something done the more conventional way. Typically, they would then be able to see for themselves the advantages of doing it the conventional way. Other times, I learned something. I don't recall for sure, but it might have been Pasewicz who brought me around to cutting the ends of soundposts with a flat chisel, rather than a knife.

But speaking of some "new" concepts not being really new at all, neither was the teaching approach I used. Hans Weisshaar did a lot of the same sort of thing. One advantage of having a broad experience base is knowing what sort of things have already been tried or used by others, in other shops or in other times, with some knowledge of how these things  turned out.

This is the main reason why we don't have just the same one or two teachers at Oberlin. Instead, we like to take advantage of many different backgrounds and experiences, often bringing in different teachers every year.

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3 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

If makers in the past had strictly without questioning followed the ht ideas of their masters we would still make only the Andreas Amati, da Salo type of instruments.

... but who were the masters of Amati and daSalo, and what were they teaching? 

Maybe we would just be hitting hollow logs with sticks.

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3 hours ago, Jerry Pasewicz said:

If makers in the past had strictly without questioning followed the ht ideas of their masters we would still make only the Andreas Amati, da Salo type of istruments.

And of course this is a perversion of the point.  How long did one traditionally spend in the masters shop understanding exactly what was done in the past before deciding they were the long awaited genius the world of luthiery had been waiting for?  If the same respect and careful study been done today we would not be having this discussion, and we would not be dealing with so many trying to cloak ignorance behind the guise of progress.

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5 minutes ago, Jerry Pasewicz said:

And of course this is a perversion of the point.  How long did one traditionally spend in the masters shop understanding exactly what was done in the past before deciding they were the long awaited genius the world of luthiery had been waiting for?  If the same respect and careful study been done today we would not be having this discussion, and we would not be dealing with so many trying to cloak ignorance behind the guise of progress.

It probably depended on the shop ...

EA Homolka for instance had moved radically away from his master Caspar Strnad by the time he was 18 or so and was innovating on so many levels. But he could probably make a great Strnad by the time he was 14!

I do agree with the general point that making violins outside of the apprentice system is quite intellectually inefficient, given that it involves so much re-inventing of the wheel.

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12 minutes ago, Michael_Molnar said:

The point I take away from Jerry's post is that we should learn before we opine. 

Yes Michael, thank you.  I can’t imagine the same thing happens in the astronomy world, but I couldn’t (wouldn’t) say, knowing nothing about it.:mellow:

To be clear, I reserve my remarks to existing instruments.  What someone does with their own tools on their own piece of wood is really none of my business, although it does get annoying every time I hear someone opine on the benefits of using two bass bars.

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On 6/8/2018 at 3:25 PM, Don Noon said:

I think most makers end up doing something relatively consistently, and end up with a modestly narrow range of results.

I am not that sure and it is also not my experience : at least not, that the most do so - because they cannot. I remember a quite renowned contemporary maker who told me, that he just had sold a very good sounding instrument and now would hope to be able to repeat.

However I know some few, who could reach this narrow range.

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On 6/7/2018 at 3:47 AM, Andreas Preuss said:

The test result showed that the sound emission of the 3 Strads was almost for every note in every direction more or less constant, while the modern instruments had peaks of sound emission in certain directions, which were above the average level of Strad spound emission.

Interesting observation !

However : did they evaluate, if the FR- curves (conventionally measured and averaged like e.g.Curtin does it ) of the non-Strads also showed a higher sharpness in general ? Did the observed effect occur only in a few frequency-band ?

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5 hours ago, David Burgess said:

  Other times, I learned something. I don't recall for sure, but it might have been Pasewicz who brought me around to cutting the ends of soundposts with a flat chisel, rather than a knife. 

You had mentioned this previously, inbetween quite a bit of teasing, but I was paying attention! 

This is an example of a small but important detail that instantly improved my set-up , but also made much more aware of the difference in sanding, cutting, scraping, chiseling, etc...which in turn made me feel more intimate and aware of the difference in wood qualities...

My point is, this forum can be a modern version of an apprentice system, sure, there are guys like me with new ideas, but really I am looking through the lens of your experiences and seeking traditional methods, otherwise there can be no baseline for comparison.....I am not trying to reinvent anything. I may have some unusual ideas, but the violin is still an unsolved mystery after all, so I think there can be some room for that.... I know you can't be as selective as with a chosen apprentice, the fact of information overload is going to lead to bad choices by some, but learning from mistakes can also point one in the right direction...

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7 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

The right balance between new ideas and doable results seems to be the best blend.

Great post!!

 

 

And there are grey areas.   When the world's knowledge of classical making shows something further, perhaps in conflict with standard modern practice, do we follow tradition by following the consensus of current practice, or by rebelling against today's practice to revive the old?

 

For myself, I've decided that FOR MAKING I want to follow old ways as far as possible.  And this encompasses treating modern practices almost as a hostile obstruction and making every imaginable effort to reach an understanding of past ways.   But then I want to anchor these revival ideas by connecting every step to evidence as directly as possible.  And by accepting that my ideas are at best hypotheses.  For me, this means welcoming every fire blast of skepticism as health tests.

But FOR SETUP I follow a different strategy.  Here I bow to modern traditions and practice, and to modern masters.  For these practices, I'm all ears.   And Holmes, Carlson, Burgess, Pacewicz, Morel, et al are the names of gods (still small g though).   I won't fully lay aside my critical and analytic nature, but I try to aim at understanding why these masters do as they do.

 

So I strike different balances for different arenas.

 

 

 

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Turning a little bit back toward Andreas' OP topic.

The research I've been doing since around 2011 into the use of geometry and simple integer proportions in classical Cremona violin making has at last reached its end (at least for now).  

I've probably shared about 80% of the results on my blog and in MN posts. Some of the hypotheses I've presented have since been revised, and many gaps are now worked through.   What I now have in hand is sufficiently complete for practical purposes. Now I'll go back to the workshop and try and put these things into practice.  I don't actually plan on publicly clarifying the last bits of all the results until I've been making with the ideas for a few years.  Partly this is a matter of wanting to retain some small benefit from these last years of private and rather alienating and impoverishing work..  And partly I want to fully test and vet what I think I've learned through real work before going to the next public step.  At some point down the line I hope to put the final results forward completely in a book. 

 

So for Andrea, the clear focus seems to be on Stradivari, and how his work is special beyond others.  I don't fully agree with the premise.  I tend to believe that 90% of what is great about Strad is that he was simply a very talented maker in the Cremona tradition.  So I ascribe most of his virtue to the Cremona tradtions, and to being simply talented and developed to an exceptional degree.  On the other hand, I have to acknowledge that my research shows that Strad's use of the traditions was always distinct from others.  He was much more likely to use complicated variations of the tradition, and to probe and explore the variations of other Cremona makers from his present and his past instead of settling down into one set of choices and just plowing away.   Nicolo Amati for comparison used virtually the identical application of the traditions across many instruments, sometimes for years and years.  Still, the primary thing I found is that the Amati, Guarneri, Roggieri, Stradivari, Bergonzi families are basically working off the same page.

From the beginning of my research, I was more interested in what made the whole community of makers so good.  So I have been more interest in what makers classical Cremona making different than most modern making, rather than what made Strad different than most Cremona making. But the work grants a bit of a window on both questions.

 

I'm left very much convinced that all of them worked by tradition, understanding very well what worked, rather than how it worked.  These were artisans steeped in a successful craft.

Even the notion that Andrea Amati was a innovator genius largely evaporates.    You can see all the basics of the violin family pattern instruments in precedents from Brescia in the works of Zanetto.  And you can see fancier methods that Andrea applied to these Brescian model instruments in other makers preceding him, including Giovanni Maria in Venice.  So Andrea Amati did a great deal.  Essentially he recast the Brescian instrument with fancier methods, and extended and modified the range of sizes.    But he worked within a traditional framework, extending and developing from the works of others.   And this process was happening broadly in Northern Italian bowed instrument making in the 1400s and 1500s.  

**************

The main thing I wanted to post here is a quick summary of what I think makes classical Cremona instruments actually different than most later making.  Not to say some modern instruments don't or can't have many or all of these features.  But in point of fact, I think the great majority of instruments since the 19th century strayed away from many or most of these features.

 

 

** Shapes designed by recipes of arcs and lines and ratios.

  • maybe executed by eye, maybe worked on paper, maybe via a template, etc.  But still the shapes from arcs and ratios.
  • This gives a method of varying or repeating features, and of transmitting the tradition by teaching the range of choices used in the tradition. Essential boast to long term individual and community learning.
  • results in shapes of a certain family with characteristics
  • insures relatedness between certain features, per tradition.

** Long flat area of top plate long arc running to and usually thru corners.  Contrasted with the back's long arc having a very short maximal length related to bridgeline, then descending smoothly and steadily to channels.

** Arching based on channels, with central arching depending and developing from the choices of the long arcs and the channels.

** Soundhole eyes and proportions related to proportions of body and to the body outline, rather than preset.

** Top arching related and interactive with soundholes and eyes

** thicknessing based primarily on simple diaphragm, with some features.

** center of back mass place some bit above bridgeline.

**sizing of many elements related to stop unit of Body to Neck ratio.

**Edgework including slight butress effect were thinnest point of channel bottom is a bit thicker than main diaphragm thickness of plate.

**Ribs reduced approaching neck

** classical linings with longish corner blocks and morticed linings inside cBout contrasted with butt joins elsewhere, and thickening edge work in corners and in plates outside soundholes, all creating comparative structural stiffness through cBout area.

** Finishing/varnish rooted in arts of the time.

  • layers
  • building from bright ground through darker glazing ending in protective varnish
  • pigmented and only rather transparent, not totally transparent
  • concepts of finishing rooted in tempering. So particles with just enough binder as the basic preferred view of materials, and a liquid goo without particulate content or strata to absorb into viewed as unusual.
  • Artisan tends to work directly with materia to mix and make anything more complicated as need, rather than get prepared

 

 

Concept = traditional artisan

 

 

 

 

 

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10 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

I put this thread up to get a bigger view of the picture, which I think is necessary to get a framework of everything we are doing.

It has become a long thread, I think, because the question of Stradivari and the reputatiion of his instruments is a controversial one that looms large in the field, being one with which even the general public is acquainted.

Personally, I am not too much in sympathy with the basic idea you presented. Could the merits of the violins of Antonio Stradivari be a result of his world view, one different from ours today?

I can't reject that completely; it indeed is possible that a different world view, for example, might have led him to try different substances in his varnish first, compared to the order in which someone with a modern viewpoint would experiment.

Instead, my reaction is based on seeing this view you have presented, however intrinsically valid it may be, as hopeless as a guide for action. Too much of the ways of thinking in the past have been discredited for good reason, and too much of a gap of time stands between us and them, for us to successfully immerse ourselves in the ways of thinking of the past. And even had we succeeded at that, in no way whatever would that guarantee that we would go on to be able to equal Stradivari at violin making!

Looking for a "gimmick" with electron microscopes and spectrometers... is doing what we moderns do best. So I think that's the approach that is still favored by the odds.

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6 hours ago, Danube Fiddler said:

I am not that sure and it is also not my experience : at least not, that the most do so - because they cannot. I remember a quite renowned contemporary maker who told me, that he just had sold a very good sounding instrument and now would hope to be able to repeat.

However I know some few, who could reach this narrow range.

I think that renowned violin makers can run into the same issues as those who are renowned in any field. In sports, it might be "can I repeat that superbowl win, without wearing my lucky socks?"

I interact with a lot of makers from all over the place, and out of that, I'd say that most near the top are intimidated by their own prior track record (and justifiably so), even if they don't share that with the general public.

35 minutes ago, Quadibloc said:

Instead, my reaction is based on seeing this view you have presented, however intrinsically valid it may be, as hopeless as a guide for action.

While I don't view it as hopeless, I haven't run across a maker yet who has eschewed the use of toilet paper, in order to more fully immerse themself in the Cremonese tradition. ;)

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I worked with Alfons Vavra for 25+ years in restoration. He is a great violinmaker and one of the best restorers in the world. The pompous attitude exhibited on this site is egregious! A mutual admiration society! I have seen no evidence of great restorers! Just a bunch of violin makers trying to recapture the past with wood that hasn’t quite aged! Good luck!

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24 minutes ago, Rmueller9 said:

55 pages based on a lunatics ravings about Alchemy! I have done violin restoration for 25+ years. I don’t give a shit how good his violins are! He probably has no formal education! Why would anyone respond to this caliber of bullshit?

Would it kill you to contribute constructively to this community? I would expect someone with decades of experience in the trade to behave with more decorum. Preuss has brought something to the table here in his postings. All I have seen from you is unpleasantness. 

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13 minutes ago, Rmueller9 said:

I worked with Alfons Vavra for 25+ years in restoration. He is a great violinmaker and one of the best restorers in the world. The pompous attitude exhibited on this site is egregious! A mutual admiration society! I have seen no evidence of great restorers! Just a bunch of violin makers trying to recapture the past with wood that hasn’t quite aged! Good luck!

Rmueller9, you claim to be a restorer for 25+ years, how about telling us your name so we can judge the credibility of what you are posting?  Is there a good reason you are choosing anonymity?

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7 minutes ago, JacksonMaberry said:

Would it kill you to contribute constructively to this community? I would expect someone with decades of experience in the trade to behave with more decorum. Preuss has brought something to the table here in his postings. All I have seen from you is unpleasantness. 

You are not restorers! This is a closed community of makers, with cynical reception to new members who are not violin makers! Remember, you will never remotely create the masterpieces of the past! Based on your pompous conversations, that hasn’t dawned on you! Also, most violinmakers have very little formal education. But, I hope your esoteric conversations grant you all happiness!

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2 minutes ago, Rmueller9 said:

You are not restorers! This is a closed community of makers, with cynical reception to new members who are not violin makers! Remember, you will never remotely create the masterpieces of the past! Based on your pompous conversations, that hasn’t dawned on you! Also, most violinmakers have very little formal education. But, I hope your esoteric conversations grant you all happiness!

I am a restorer R, how about you share your identity so we can judge if you have the chops to back up your words?  I am happy to compare resume’ s.

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