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Stradivari's secret was a concept?


Andreas Preuss
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2 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Original arching template, versus the arching after some humidity cycling under string tension:

archingdistort.jpg

Jeffrey Holmes and I know of one highly-acclaimed restorer, who does some mild arching correction on a particular cello every few years (it goes flat or swaybacked in the center), because that's what it takes to get it sounding  good again, and keep it on the performing circuit.

Convincing enough. 

The top must be pretty thin. Makes me wonder however if flattening the string angle at the bridge would be a more permanent cure.

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3 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Do you really think the lengthwise belly arch can visibly sink in? Lengthwise spruce fibers are extremly stiff and resistant so I would assume the sinking-in during the stretch-in period (first 5 years or so) is almost invisible. 

No, it will not sink in, but the upper and lower bout areas will almost certainly rise, as David Burgess have explained. This will result in a flatter looking arch.

2 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Original arching template, versus the arching after some humidity cycling under string tension:

archingdistort.jpg

Jeffrey Holmes and I know of one highly-acclaimed restorer, who does some mild arching correction on a particular cello every few years (it goes flat or swaybacked in the center), because that's what it takes to get it sounding  good again, and keep it on the performing circuit.

Like this.

2 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Convincing enough. 

The top must be pretty thin. Makes me wonder however if flattening the string angle at the bridge would be a more permanent cure.

That's why Del Gesus with their thicker graduations hold their shape better.

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10 hours ago, uncle duke said:

Yes.

 I read where this one maker was trying his hand at steaming belly wood instead of the Cremonese way of carving.  Then I think there was going to be a pine neck instead of maple neck for the pegbox graph.  The scroll appears to be a real nice piece of work.  Flexible concept on his behalf?  So far, yes.

Ha ha, you got me there. 

But, the super light violin has directly nothing to do with the classical approach. As I am saying at the beginning of the super light violin thread: I do the work and you will have a good laugh! 

Cheers!

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29 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Convincing enough. 

The top must be pretty thin. Makes me wonder however if flattening the string angle at the bridge would be a more permanent cure.

As are some Strads. Don did some experiments with radically changing the string angle, and I was surprised at how little difference it made in the sound, on the recordings.

I just made a jig with a rod extending up from a block that clamps to the outside of the lower block, with the rod slightly angled, so that one can presumably slide the tail adjuster up and down the rod to change the downforce on the bridge, without the afterlength changing, and without needing to remove the string tension or risk changes in the bridge position. I'll be paying attention to not only the changes in sound, but also in the playing characteristics, because I think they matter just as much as the sound does.

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6 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

 

As are some Strads. Don did some experiments with radically changing the string angle, and I was surprised at how little difference it made in the sound of the recordings.

I just made a jig with a rod extending up from a block that clamps to the outside lower block, with the rod slightly angled, so that one can presumably slide the tail adjuster up and down the rod to change the downforce on the bridge, without the afterlength changing, and without needing to remove the string tension or risk changes in the bridge position. I'll be paying attention to not only the changes in sound, but also in the playing characteristics.

 

Cool idea! Let us know about your findings.

 

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23 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

 

As are some Strads. Don did some experiments with radically changing the string angle, and I was surprised at how little difference it made in the sound of the recordings.

I just made a jig with a rod extending up from a block that clamps to the outside outside of the lower block, with the rod slightly angled, so that one can presumably slide the tail adjuster up and down the rod to change the downforce on the bridge, without the afterlength changing, and without needing to remove the string tension or risk changes in the bridge position. I'll be paying attention to not only the changes in sound, but also in the playing characteristics.

A member of the Chicago Symphony bought, many years ago, a Rugeri cello that had been owned by an experimentally-minded member of the St Louis SO. It had a rather large aluminum arc hooked on to the bottom end, to the endpin, I think, that rested on the back of the saddle and stood up about three inches above the saddle, with the focus of the arc at the bridge. That way he could slide the tail gut up and down without lowering the strings too much, nor changing the afterlength. Unfortunately, we didn't play with it before friend Russell removed it. It would have been interesting. 

Another cello I did learn a lot from had one of those key adjustments in the heel to crank up the projection--it would go up to around 90mm or so. The differences were hard to verbalize, but they were there. The most interesting, however, was how much the treble suddenly changed when the mechanism ran out and the back of the heel was firmly sucked down against the block in the back, vs the neck just floating between the keywork and the hinge in front, which gave me new respect for the secure gluing of necks. That cello still lives with the keywork.

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1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

:lol:   I think you might be right. There was a long period of time when the money just wasn't there, for a good maker to do their best work. Sacconi could make a pretty nice fiddle, but made very few of them. He was primarily a restorer.

I see Sacconi as a man who stood in awe of Antonio Stradivari. Therefore I think Sacconi was fighting his own doubts when making Stradivari replicas, emotionally not the best way to produce enough instruments to make a living. 

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On June 10, 30 Heisei at 10:20 PM, Don Noon said:

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

Maybe we would just be hitting hollow logs with sticks.

Yes Don, maybe a bit exaggerated but we do have to realize that the first violin makers like Andrea Amati were lute makers so everything started from the mindset of lute makers. Quite a mutation as a starting point. 

Da Salo in contrary was apparently a musician and must be regarded as a self trained amateur. 

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29 minutes ago, Michael Darnton said:

A member of the Chicago Symphony bought, many years ago, a Rugeri cello that had been owned by an experimentally-minded member of the St Louis SO. It had a rather large aluminum arc hooked on to the bottom end, to the endpin, I think, that rested on the back of the saddle and stood up about three inches above the saddle, with the focus of the arc at the bridge. That way he could slide the tail gut up and down without lowering the strings too much, nor changing the afterlength. Unfortunately, we didn't play with it before friend Russell removed it. It would have been interesting. 

 

Yeah, my jig isn't a new concept by any means, just a "quick and dirty"  thing, which should clamp up easily to just about any fiddle. Maybe we'll get different outcomes on different fiddles, or be able to find where the "sweet spot" is on a fiddle where we are considering changing the neck projection?

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I've been doing a lot of experimenting lately, and one of the things I've been fighting with is the combined variables of changing the string angle and the associated bridge height. I'm trying as much as possible to keep them separate, but it can be hard doing that while trying to work efficiently. $$$. Mostly this is on cellos because I feel like they're not as optimized as violins seem to be. Or maybe they just offer more opportunity to do things without them being noticed. :-)

Someone I used to work with felt that all violins sounded better with a piece of cardboard boosting the saddle, but was it the boost, or the cardboard? :-)

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On June 11, 30 Heisei at 3:55 AM, David Beard said:

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

 

 

 

 

 

David, that's quite an extensive summary. Thanks for taking the time writing this.

In most points I agree that we have to see makers in a historical context. However I am pretty sure that Stradivari revolutionized certain aspects invented new tools and developed traditional techniques to new heights. You may see it as outstanding skills, I prefer to call him one of the most imaginative and genius mind in violin making. 

(I should dig out my video on cutting a Strad f hole with a fly- wheel driven saw constructed with historically available materials. I see there the approach of modern design: the employed dictate the resulting shape. Just one example)

However always fascinating to read your thoughts, David, and waiting eagerly now for one of your re creations of a Cremonese instrument. 

 

 

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On June 11, 30 Heisei at 5:38 AM, Quadibloc said:

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.

Everyone is allowed to speak his opinion here and controversy actually fuels the length of a thread. 

Maybe my approach is too diffuse or unrealistic to you but the deciphering of other mysteries from the middle age and before give me the conviction that we need to decipher the mindset. I am not alone here, David Beard works pretty much in the same direction. 

If you believe in  secret, please feel free to do so, I am not trying to convince anyone, this is a discussion board to exchange opinions and share thoughts nothing more. By listening to other participants ideas everyone might gain some new insights. 

In the end, if you are a violin maker, try to set your ideas into action compare them with original samples and discuss them with your peers to see if you can validate your own ideas. I learned quite a lot, abandoned during the discussion some ideas.

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1 hour ago, Andreas Preuss said:

You may see it as outstanding skills, I prefer to call him one of the most imaginative and genius mind in violin making.

From what I've seen, apparently Stradivari excelled in both respects.

Just his decorated violins, and the scrolls of his earlier violins, show that he was an expert woodworker.

Violins today aren't built according to the Stradivari pattern most of the time because of a vain hope that one might accidentally make a violin that sounds as good as a Stradivarius. The pattern itself contributes positively to certain aspects of the sound of the violin in ways that are known and understood.

And that he made some innovations as regards the sizes of instruments, and that his violins changed over time as he experimented, is also known.

Given that the most outstanding trait attributed to his violins is neither how well their sound carries nor how sweet that sound is, but rather their versatility and depth as musical instruments, the endless richness and variety they offer the violinist as he or she strives to learn how to bring out all that the instrument is capable of, maybe it's better to speak of a Stradivarius "experience" than a Stradivarius "sound".

While a special varnish or ground coat might let one make a violin with a darker or lighter sound than might be believed possible, it's harder to imagine that any one "secret" could enable one to make a violin with that kind of endless richness.

Although I stand by my skepticism that many violin makers today could achieve much benefit in putting themselves in a Cremonese frame of mind (by itself; that is a step useful in looking for a "secret", since, after all, it would have to be something to which Stradivari had access) because I don't think we moderns could begin to do it well enough, I will admit that if the virtue of a Stradivarius is of this order, it likely will take an effort that reaches far and wide rather than one that is limited to any single aspect of how those violins were made.

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On June 12, 30 Heisei at 3:08 AM, Bruce Tai said:

This thread has run so long that I don't know if it is worth posting new concepts here. 

But I just got one yesterday.

So at least I want to share it openly with Andreas Preuss instead of just sending him a private message.  

While we have only anecdotal evidence on how aging alters violin and bow properties, from what we know about the physico-chemical changes of wood during aging, I think that aging really matters. Chinese people made guqins for 300 years in a continuous tradition, and after 2000 years they start to insist that 500 years of wood aging is critical. That number may not apply to violins and bows, though. 

Aging is not a new concept. 18th century violins from France and Germany don't carry the Cremonese quality. Aging is not some magic bullet, either. I even suspect that 300 years of aging will make violins lose their brilliance. 

 So where is the new concept? I will put a new bold hypothesis here. 

I think Stradivari and del Gesu may had started to contemplate about managing the process of wood aging. They don't want it to just age and go bad or go soft. Their way of managing it is to treat the wood in special ways first. We now have evidence that some minerals were added. What else was done (steaming, soaking, re-soaking, boiling)? We can't be sure. We are starting to see that the aluminum put in by Stradivari and del Gesu are surrounded by five oxygen atoms in maples. New maples only have four and six oxygen coordination sites for aluminum to bind. The five-coordination sites are generated by aging, probably lignin oxidation, and aluminum has relocated to such sites. The aluminum could promote the bonding between lignin and hemicellulose, after the breakdown of original hemicellulose-lignin bonds by aging. So, in this sense, aluminum alters how the wood ages, compensating for the breakdown. So Stradivari and del Gesu could somehow regulate the aging process. Was this their original intention? I don't know. But it seems to be the result of whatever it was that they tried to do.      

The making of mummies is a concept about managing body decay and afterlife, by adding preservatives. So why can't violin makers contemplate about managing wood decay by adding preservatives? We know for sure that wood decays. We could repeatedly see spectroscopic changes related to hemicellulose breakdown after 200 years in maples from old instruments.  

To me, this seems like a new concept--to add preservatives to manage wood aging and decay. If someone else has already proposed it, I apologize for not knowing it before. 

 

Catching up from page 55 traversing a rough sea and finally finding your thoughtful post, Bruce. 

One question for clarification: you found aluminum in maple, right? Do you have any results for soruce as well? 

To make it short, I wouldn't think those masters had artificial ageing in mind or preserving for eternal life. BUT regardless the motivations your findings might be another stone in the puzzle. This being said, I don't think that certain minerals applied to cure the wood is the entire concept. 

What I am asking me here is what sort of properties were associated with aluminum containing minerals in the alchemistic world. We know that it was used to fix colors in fabric. Could it be that the use didn't aim at the sound at all and was rather to create the golden color in the ground??

if it was about wood preservation why did only Strad and DG use it? Then this would rather imply a new method for something here. 

Just speculating here. 

What I think in the end is that every little bit we find on those masterpieces had a purpose. The Cremonese masters certainly didn't take alum to have "aluminum" in the wood because as far as I know aluminum as an element wasn't  discovered yet. 

But to know precisely it needs to fit in the whole concept.

 

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I skim through new posts in this tread occasionally and I believe that concepts/repeatable methods, is the key to get consistent results.

Of course you have to first define what a result is - The Strad Sound? I wouldn't know because I still do not know if it exists.

But they are amazing in hands of a world class soloist :)

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25 minutes ago, Quadibloc said:

Violins today aren't built according to the Stradivari pattern most of the time because of a vain hope that one might accidentally make a violin that sounds as good as a Stradivarius.

 

That's a pretty outrageous statement! :rolleyes:

Many violin makers today are seeking a little individuality, in a sea of "Strad copies". What would you think about sticking to things you might know even a smidgen about?

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On June 12, 30 Heisei at 4:11 AM, Bruce Tai said:

I apologize if I sound like a charlatan who is trying to add mysticism to the  mystique that already surrounds Antonio Stradivari. This thread is all about grandiose concepts. So I tried to propose something bold, but still based on our new data which will be published next year. 

I have been on this forum for 12 years and published 5 scholarly articles on violin research since then. Could not have done it without the help and criticism that I receive here. So some of you already know what I am doing and my track record. Those who don't know me may just think I am promoting some kind of chemical wizardry about Cremona. Many have tried to do that before and failed miserably. But what we are doing is truly academic research.  

Scientific research is a just working method that could go wrong like everything else in life. But it can teach us some knowledge that could not be obtained otherwise. So I am still trying to take what limited resources we have and try to learn something about Cremonese violins. We could be very wrong, but we need to start somewhere somehow. 

Well said, Bruce. 

Just continue your research. You have my support from the practical end. 

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On June 12, 30 Heisei at 4:22 AM, martin swan said:

 

Really he is much more likely to have been motivated by a desire to maintain his commercial edge and his reputation amongst his clients than to be planning his posthumous fame.

He certainly maintained the commercial edge and increased his production even after reaching his 70th birthday. 

But speeding up shows somehow that he was not only concerned about the highest possible quality to present himself as the worlds best maker (after Stainer) but also a man who drives his production to the edge of the possible. 

Do we know any maker past or present who speeds up production after 70 maintains an extraordinary quality. (sound features completely aside)

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4 hours ago, David Burgess said:

 

As are some Strads. Don did some experiments with radically changing the string angle, and I was surprised at how little difference it made in the sound, on the recordings.

I just made a jig with a rod extending up from a block that clamps to the outside of the lower block, with the rod slightly angled, so that one can presumably slide the tail adjuster up and down the rod to change the downforce on the bridge, without the afterlength changing, and without needing to remove the string tension or risk changes in the bridge position. I'll be paying attention to not only the changes in sound, but also in the playing characteristics, because I think they matter just as much as the sound does.

Round off the end of your rod so you don't impale your chin on it.

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