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Stradivari's secret was a concept?


Andreas Preuss
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3 minutes ago, JacksonMaberry said:

But they still weren't as expensive or beloved as those of Stainer. ;) Again perhaps we have Tarisio to thank. 

After Stradivari's death, yes, for a while violins by Stainer sold for ten times as much as those of Stradivari. Here, however, hype had nothing to do with it. We still do have Luigi Tarisio to thank - because if not for him, Stradivari might have been forgotten, left to remain obscure until nearly all his violins were lost or destroyed. But the switch from Stainer to Stradivarius had a genuine musical cause: the transition from chamber music to orchestral music, for which Stradivarius violins were more suitable - presumably even before one replaced the neck and the bass bar.

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3 hours ago, Don Noon said:

From very limited observations...

Amati - speaker cone concept, thin at the edges with lot of recurve

Strad - as thin as possible, with arching and thickness adjusted to maximum efficiency

Guarneri - brawny

I would basically agree with this. 

Of course, the Amatis wouldn't have thought of speakers. So I might substitute 'a long barreled top arch surrounded by a moat of wide channeling'.

With Strad I might add 'with a roughly cicular back mass running into the edges and often often some extra thinning between the upper eyes'

With Del Gesu I would add 'with a back mass elongated along the center line and more separated from the edges, and often with elongated soundholes.'

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On 4/17/2018 at 2:05 PM, Addie said:

There is no evidence of a guild or association of musical instrument makers in Cremona.

Addie is right. France, Germany, and I believe England had strict guilds. So strict that in some places if a maker moved from one town to another they had to retrain in order to be excepted in that guild. I don't believe makers in Cremona had such a guild. Some historians believe Stradivari was trained as a lute maker somewhere other than Cremona. When he moved to Cremona he made all types of string instruments, eventually zeroing in on the violin family. This may sound a little outlandish, but no more than some of the other theories. He was such a great artist/craftsman he did great work no matter what he was making. Until we have some real proof of training, it's all guess work.

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53 minutes ago, Berl Mendenhall said:

Addie is right. France, Germany, and I believe England had strict guilds. So strict that in some places if a maker moved from one town to another they had to retrain in order to be excepted in that guild. I don't believe makers in Cremona had such a guild. Some historians believe Stradivari was trained as a lute maker somewhere other than Cremona. When he moved to Cremona he made all types of string instruments, eventually zeroing in on the violin family. This may sound a little outlandish, but no more than some of the other theories. He was such a great artist/craftsman he did great work no matter what he was making. Until we have some real proof of training, it's all guess work.

There was a guild system in Lombardy which was supressed cin 1776.(Gindin: late Cremonese makers p. 14) In this context it is interesting to see the life of Lorenzo Storioni who, as long as the guild existed, worked as a self trained maker (against the rules of the guild) under cover. With the collapse of the guild he became officially a violin maker.

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7 hours ago, Michael_Molnar said:

I can understand that a central strip of younger wood may have a lower density than that of the older wings in a spruce plate, but is this common?

I think that it is just how it is. This is my take on sapwood,,,

When I cut dead stands, the outer 2 inches or so has to be split off because it is almost always riddled with wormholes and blue stain,( I do this on the spot, never try to bring home a worm),,. worms love it there, there is a line of demarcation, like crossing a border into another country, checkpoints with loaded weapons,,,, the works. The worm holes stop there,, just like a wall. They feed and leave. As the tree gets older different critters can take up residence and literately drill everywhere to the center and back out again, especially if there is moisture present, they like moist wood. A tree lying on the ground can retain moisture in the tubes of the grain and is soon riddled with worms and destroyed, super fast with engelman, much slower with sitka, I'm clueless on European species.. When the tree remains upright it dries out relatively fast and the critters don't like it so much when it is dry, though some of them will try to hang in there and munch, but only a couple or so,,, put the tree on the ground and it's gone in a season. I won't even bother checking a tree on the ground, they are never any good.

When I have purchased living trees, and I go search for a clean one without worm damage to the wood,, then I can keep the sapwood intact,, in fact the center joint can be just a couple of lines from the  surface interface at the bark line. Often there will be massive worm damage to the bark, but they have been satisfied feeding there and have not  driven into the wood of the tree yet, that can take a bit of time, so if you catch it before they dive in, the sapwood can still be used.

The sap wood seems to always have a weaker cross grain stiffness than the heart wood,, this has been my experience. In fact right now I just finished a plate with full sapwood down the center and it does feel extra soft when flexed in the cross grain direction. A large amount of that wood was sold,, but still enough left for probably  75 or so. I was wondering about doing a different plate then along comes someone on mastronet and says that the fiddles with sapwood centers sound better because they are flexible,,, I'll try that,,,,,, some times ya just gotta love maestronet.

Evan Thankful

 

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14 hours ago, Michael_Molnar said:

I can understand that a central strip of younger wood may have a lower density than that of the older wings in a spruce plate, but is this common? Also, is this a patch in the Gibson Huberman?

Yeah, it seems to show up a decent amount.  Pretty much any instrument with a prominent racing stripe will have at least some difference in density, although some more than others.  And yes, big chest patch.

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21 hours ago, sospiri said:

Interesting points Advocactus thanks for posting them. What you suggest implies to me that the wood is not so hard to find amongst thousands of trees even if it's just one log in a hundred?

I have similar density variations in local wood I have and wondered the same thing? Does the variation in density give more tonal colour or is this just wishful thinking and is less variation in density actually more desirable, or is it impossible to discern or just subjective opinion?

I agree about the linseed oil ground, but this, I have found is absolutely not the current fad and has not been so for a while due to misinformation and fear and... well fadisim. Actually it was Echard, not Brandmair, she found a mineral ground, but since the book costs $500 then.. well.. that doesn't inspire my condidence in her claims. Echard says that what he found was simpler to describe than most other explanations and that gives me confidence in his findings because he seems to be debunking dogma and mythology? It also concurs with what others have been saying for over 200 years, and with my own experiments in varnishing and the tonal effects. A linseed oil layer in the wood either shallow 0.1 mm or deeper, gives a more responsive sound due most likely to the resilence synonyms: flexibility, pliability, suppleness, souplesse, elasticity, plasticity, springiness, give, etcetera that it imparts to the playability and tonal variety of the instrument.

 

sounds good too, but especially when Joshua Bell plays it:

https://rhapsodyinwords.com/2015/08/24/the-astonishing-300-year-history-of-the-gibson-ex-huberman-stradivarius/

In my own experience, the difference in density give more colors, or at least makes more textures available.  I gave some tops that were from my favorite log to a couple other makers, and some agreed but some didn't.  I guess that's how it goes.  

Brandmair's findings in the Strad varnish book point a thin protein ground, not mineral.  She's also done analysis  on a bunch of other instruments that aren't in the book (although some are in other books), and those mostly point to linseed oil, or something similar.  

Also can't say I'm a huge fan of the Gibson violin in real life.  I've seen it around a half dozen times, both in my hands and in various halls, and although it has an amazing variety of colors up close, it doesn't project very well.  I last saw it in November last year in a small hall (250 seats?) with an 8' grand piano with the lid closed the whole way, and you could barely hear it by the middle of the hall.

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20 hours ago, Danube Fiddler said:

Is there anywhere reported, when and why it was necessary to do such a big patch in nearly the complete central area. It is fascinating for me to see, that the damages/ archings- sinkings and the needed repairs seem to have not touched the parts of instrument, essential for the great sound, they still have. 

An even much bigger breast-patch has the Plowden-Guarneri-del-Gesú, not preventing it from sounding unbelievable good ! Are the central areas really so unimportant for sound or did the restorers such an unbelievable good work, but unable to make complete new instruments, which also sound fantastic ?

On the contrary, I'd say the chest region is probably the most critical for sound!  A little extra stiffness might not always hurt.

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4 minutes ago, Advocatus Diaboli said:
18 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Question to this photo: 

the colors indicating the density are independent of the actual material thickness, right? 

Yes.  Just pertains to the density.

May I ask, do you know if these density values are averaged across the entire plate-thickness, or if they are maxima / minima from within the plate? 

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19 minutes ago, Advocatus Diaboli said:

Here's another top from one of the better sounding strads out there IMO.  1724.  (the two halves are from different trees, in case it's not obvious)

That's just spectacular! I may be reading way too much into the data, but doesn't this image suggest more hide-glue exists at either end of the soundpost patch than in the middle (assuming a broadly homogeneous patch material)? Even if I am misreading this, I had no idea this quality of information was available.

Does anyone know if the graduations of a "two-half" instrument have been published (in a Strad poster or the like)? I'm now fascinated to see if this type of density gradient might be allowed for in some way by a skilled maker (or if there would simply be no noticeable allowance, compared to an instrument with more evenly matched halves).

thanks,

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I know I came across a paper online about a scientific identification of Stradivari's varnish. There was a first layer of pure linseed oil. The second layer was linseed oil and a little red pigment.

Also, there was pine oil somewhere, and there were three layers. The composition of the third layer was behind a paywall, but that means it included pine oil; which is reasonable as I've read elsewhere that pine oil gives a glossy finish.

EDIT: I had found the paper from a reference in a news article, which also identified the red pigment as vermillion; it is the research by Jean-Phillipe Echard and his team I was thinking of.

Edited by Quadibloc
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5 hours ago, Advocatus Diaboli said:

Also can't say I'm a huge fan of the Gibson violin in real life.  I've seen it around a half dozen times, both in my hands and in various halls, and although it has an amazing variety of colors up close, it doesn't project very well.  I last saw it in November last year in a small hall (250 seats?) with an 8' grand piano with the lid closed the whole way, and you could barely hear it by the middle of the hall.

Projection often depends on the played compositions. Some month ago I heard Tianwa Yang with a del-Gesú in a slightly bigger hall ( ~ 400 seats). Surprisingly (at the first moment) , that she wasn´t to hear very good with a Mozart - sonata in the last rows( piano was not the Steinway D but probably a B one ), but very good to hear in the following Prokovjev f-minor-sonata ! 

If one wants to judge and compare projection in "real life", one has to have experiences not only in the same hall, but also with the same given compositions as yet heard before.

However, my opinion is, that great Cremonese instruments dont have superior projection power in comparison to other well-built instruments. The secret of them lies somewhere other. 

Did you hear some other prominent Cremonese violins in THIS small hall ? I would suggest, that a great player as Hubermann had very good reasons, to use this Strad as also surely Joshua Bell has them.

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3 minutes ago, Danube Fiddler said:

I would suggest, that a great player as Hubermann had very good reasons, to use this Strad as also surely Joshua Bell has them.

The experience of playing them is vastly different than listening to them, and it's the player who decides.  If Josh ever loans me his Strad, I'll let you know what it's like.

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3 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

The experience of playing them is vastly different than listening to them, and it's the player who decides.  If Josh ever loans me his Strad, I'll let you know what it's like.

Yes, I know. However the player gets a feedback from the concerthall while playing. World-known players as Hubermann and Bell, have/had many opportunities to compare instruments repeatedly in many halls( plenty and filled) , this is an inestimable advantage. Apparently Hubermann did comparisons between his Strad and del-Gesú in the halls, he had the next concert and then decided, which violin would be better in this hall, possibly also depending on the played compositions.  In Carnegie he once decided against the Strad - and this was not very good for the Strad .......

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I found a thread about the research of Jean-Philippe Echard, referring to a later paper than the one I had seen. From that thread, I learned to avoid mentioning by name one individual I would otherwise have noted in what follows.

I remember reading in a 19th century work about violins, that listed different theories about Stradivari, a mention of one person who was convinced that he used a spirit varnish. Since violins sound better before varnish is applied, even before Echard's research, the consensus opinion was that Stradivari did not do so, because spirit varnish adds a lot of stiffness, and the use of a faster-drying varnish that diminished the sound quality of instruments was an unfortunate post-Cremonese innovation.

However, the idea that something which reduced the large difference in with-grain and cross-grain stiffness of spruce was "Stradivari's secret" has been persistent. Recent proposals that it was a mineral preservative, or reduced sunspot activity, or a bacterial infection of trees for which a fungal substitute has been found... have been anticipated.

In addition to the suggestion, now known to be mistaken, that Stradivari used spirit varnish, in Dresden in the 1920s, Franz Josef Koch used a resin to "equalize" the wood from which he built violins. And in 1938, Frederick A. Saunders, the physicist of whom Carleen Hutchins was a protege, measured a Koch violin and said that it closely resembled the fine old violins that are highly prized.

And William F. Fry added cross-grain stiffness as well, but only in the area between the f-holes. His formula was casein-based wood glue, diluted half and half with water so it would soak into the wood better.

That this notion keeps coming up, of course, doesn't prove that there is any truth in it. It is, after all, an obvious possibility to speculate on once one assumes that Stradivari, or the Cremonese builders in general, had a "secret" of some sort. Personally, I incline to the view that there was a secret, simply because Dunnwald's famous graph shows a definite difference between the violins of fine modern luthiers and those of old Cremona. (Basically, they seem to do even better than Stradivari and Guarneri at boosting the high frequencies that give a violin carrying power and put a glorious sheen around its notes - but what they didn't achieve that the old masters had was suppressing the middle-high frequencies that lead to shrillness.)

In the present day, however, having the researches of Fry and others to look at, it would not surprise me too much if there is more of a diversity of sound among the products of modern luthiers, and so it wouldn't surprise me if some of them are making violins that have a more Cremonese-style sound, even if this is not widely recognized or acclaimed.

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4 hours ago, DavidHickss said:

From what I can assemble the mystery is there's no mystery. However, I do believe that each producer normally sounds and plays somewhat like himself, to a similar degree that painters and scholars are conspicuous

David; Welcome to Maestronet.  You are welcome to participate, but please knock off the advertising link.  (I edited it out)

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17 minutes ago, Quadibloc said:

Personally, I incline to the view that there was a secret, simply because Dunnwald's famous graph shows a definite difference between the violins of fine modern luthiers and those of old Cremona.

Personally, I think that the 300 year age difference has something to do with it.   Wood properties do change with age and/or exposure to air.

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I think Dunnwald's studies were piss-poor science.  He started with an opinion that wasn't tested (old violins were better) and then cherry picked evidence to support it. His conclusions therefore are a distortion of reality and can mislead people.

He should have done double blind tests to see what players and listeners preferred and then looked for differences between good and bad violins instead of new  vs. old.  

 

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57 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

Personally, I think that the 300 year age difference has something to do with it.   Wood properties do change with age and/or exposure to air.

That is an undeniable fact, wood properties do change with time.

Your posts here show you are very knowledgeable about this subject, so it is with some trepidation that I attempt to take issue with you, but here are some reasons why I think that even if the age difference is also a factor, there seems to be something else going on.

The violins of Stradivari had their present high reputation, if not quite their present high prices, 100 years ago. Of course, that would still have been long enough for their wood to have been properly aged. But the violins that were made only 100 years after Stradivari's day... are still not considered to be of great interest or to be unreachably beyond the attainments of modern luthiers.

Also, it is possible to purchase old wood, and some luthiers have tried this.

The next possibility, which also dismisses the notion of any "secret" being involved, is that Antonio Stradivari was simply highly skilled and talented.

Of course he was. And so were Giuseppi Guarneri and Lorenzo Guadagnini. But if there is an unbridgeable gulf even between Guadagnini, who is #3, and even the finest luthiers from the Victorian era to the present, it seems hard to avoid the idea that something has been lost. Maybe another Stradivari has not been born, but surely there would have been someone in that profession who at least came close to Guadagnini.

This is what suggests that there is still an additional increment of excellence which is either due to some "secret" or which only appears to exist, being created by a halo of hype around the old Cremonese masters.

However, there is a third possibility. Due to plague and war and other things, the thread of apprenticeship was broken when the glorious Cremonese era is felt to have ended. So knowledge, rather than a special kind of wood or preservative or varnish, may have been what was lost.

From time to time, Stradivarius violins have sustained damage, and been brought in for restoration work, and in some cases, their bellies have been detached. I am not aware of the existence of any audio recordings of tap tones from the belly of a Stradivarius removed from its instrument. I suspect this is the sort of thing many luthiers would...eagerly seek out (more colorful language is possible here).

If modern luthiers had the opportunity to know what they should be aiming for, then perhaps the thread of knowledge lost could be restarted.

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