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Stradivari's secret was a concept?


Andreas Preuss
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13 minutes ago, Conor Russell said:

That I just don't know.

Me either , I do know that right down the road In Breccia there were a bunch of  tool makers doing all sorts of mind bending work at the time, pretty sure a long thin blade capable of the work could be produced quite easily by a saw smith of the day. 

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18 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

I found something interesting about ancient fret saws. Apparently it was invented by a German clock maker and further developed to cut wood by Andre Charles Boulle, cabinet maker to Louis XIV.

So that means it is quite possible that Stradivarius used such means, as this does predate his career.

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1 hour ago, James M. Jones said:

Me either , I do know that right down the road In Breccia there were a bunch of  tool makers doing all sorts of mind bending work at the time, pretty sure a long thin blade capable of the work could be produced quite easily by a saw smith of the day. 

I'd love to know more about Breccia's steel and tool craft.  Kinda wonderful how the Breccia area combines the tools and spruce, and the Cremona and the Po provide the field maple, willow, and flax.  Pretty much everything you need right there. 

 

The area even provides larch, which gives the Venice Turp  (and from that my preferred varnish Rosin).

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7 hours ago, Conor Russell said:

I cut my f holes with an ordinary fret saw, and each takes a couple of minutes. I don't go too near the line, just enough to let the knife through is really enough. In fact I like a body of wood to cut against, so the knife has some resistance. This way I can cut a smooth line quite fluently and quickly.

I had a maker work with me who didn't bother at all with a saw, just pierced through with his knife.

I really think the speed thing is a red herring. Look at all those beautifully crafted French trade fiddles. They were very quickly made, with great tool skills. Unfortunately they can lack personality and perhaps good taste. 

I admire the ingenuity of your saw however!

That's the point, personality and good taste plus high performance quality. Not so easy at a peak production rate of 16 violins and 1.5 cellos per year.

and why did only very few makers of the rest of the crowd not work at the same precision level?

 Pietro Guarneri Mantova made only very few instruments, Giovanni Battista Gabrielle is the same. Carlo Bergonzi who worked definitely at the same level made maybe 3-4 instruments per year. If you multiply this by 2 because Strad was aided by at least Francesco, you get to 8 instruments. 

Sorry, not a red herring to me.

 

 

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9 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

That's the point, personality and good taste plus high performance quality. Not so easy at a peak production rate of 16 violins and 1.5 cellos per year.

and why did only very few makers of the rest of the crowd not work at the same precision level?

 Pietro Guarneri Mantova made only very few instruments, Giovanni Battista Gabrielle is the same. Carlo Bergonzi who worked definitely at the same level made maybe 3-4 instruments per year. If you multiply this by 2 because Strad was aided by at least Francesco, you get to 8 instruments. 

Sorry, not a red herring to me.

 

 

I believe there are years when existing instruments from Strad's shop are more like 24 instruments.  (Am I remembering wrong? Been a while since I examined those numbers.)

And DG I think put out a number approaching 300 instruments mostly in a 15 year period.  So that also is averaging about 20/year, across his loose late years and earlier cleaner work also.

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This is a very practical system, I have used it sometimes and it works well, I suspect they did so anciently.

Especially if one considers that most probably Stradivari traced the F hole stems on the inside of the top, this system allows to progressively enlarge the cut in order to better see and control the evolution of the shape on the outside without making mistakes.

Has anyone ever tried to cut the F holes with a saw by following the tracing on the inside? I get anxiety just thinking about it.....
 
Here are the traces of the pen drawing noticed by Sacconi inside the Servais cello.
2072765150_DSC_0454rideffeServaisSacconi.thumb.jpg.ea7cd5b4c7e9f52b4d1f69322f5a7029.jpg
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50 minutes ago, David Beard said:

I believe there are years when existing instruments from Strad's shop are more like 24 instruments.  (Am I remembering wrong? Been a while since I examined those numbers.)

And DG I think put out a number approaching 300 instruments mostly in a 15 year period.  So that also is averaging about 20/year, across his loose late years and earlier cleaner work also.

Bob Beins counting of DG went to 116 or 117 existing instruments. 

The peak of Strads by year on the label is 32. (Goodkind) That's exactly the reason why I think he inserted the label when he sold the instrument and this doesn't have anything to do with the year it was really made. 

We have something like 50 Carlo Bergonzis and I don't think too many were lost.

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1 hour ago, David Beard said:

I thought the old Cozio database listed more Del Gesu instruments?  So that puts him more like 9 or 10 a year.

It depends from which year you start the calculation 

He started working 'on his own' if we can say so in a family of violin makers, around 1726, this would make something like total average of 6 - 7 per year. But at the end he didn't work at a high standard any more.

I think this number goes as well with numbers in

guild regulations in cities where this existed. I vaguely remember that a guild in Germany allowed makers 6  instruments, so this was enough for a living and to support a family. 

(need to find the reference for this)

Anyway, Carlo Bergonzi is probably the best comparison  because he worked alone and at the same level as Strad for all his instruments I don't think that he produced more than 6 instruments per year. 

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3 hours ago, Davide Sora said:

This is a very practical system, I have used it sometimes and it works well, I suspect they did so anciently.

Especially if one considers that most probably Stradivari traced the F hole stems on the inside of the top, this system allows to progressively enlarge the cut in order to better see and control the evolution of the shape on the outside without making mistakes.

Has anyone ever tried to cut the F holes with a saw by following the tracing on the inside? I get anxiety just thinking about it.....
 
 
Here are the traces of the pen drawing noticed by Sacconi inside the Servais cello.
2072765150_DSC_0454rideffeServaisSacconi.thumb.jpg.ea7cd5b4c7e9f52b4d1f69322f5a7029.jpg

I was thinking about this a lot and  I think there might be another small misinterpretation by Sacconi.

The inside tracings were simply to locate the points of the ff. Once the points were open the paper template was used on the outside to do the rest. IMHO this is the most efficient way to work with this system.

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1 hour ago, Andreas Preuss said:

I was thinking about this a lot and  I think there might be another small misinterpretation by Sacconi.

The inside tracings were simply to locate the points of the ff. Once the points were open the paper template was used on the outside to do the rest. IMHO this is the most efficient way to work with this system.

What do you think of the pen strokes noticed by Sacconi that marked the stems on the inside of the Servais top? This seem to me a rather convincing proof of his theory, difficult to refute.

Even for me the easiest system would be to mark the stems outside, but also I think that purfling before closing the box is a more efficient system even if it seems that Stradivari did not do it that way.....

 

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4 minutes ago, Davide Sora said:
 
 
What do you think of the pen strokes noticed by Sacconi that marked the stems on the inside of the Servais top? This seem to me a rather convincing proof of his theory, difficult to refute.

Even for me the easiest system would be to mark the stems outside, but also I think that purfling before closing the box is a more efficient system even if it seems that Stradivari did not do it that way.....

 

Once again I think the same.

There surely are things misinterpreted in Sacconi's book, which is why I found the book of no interest during years...

But I finally read it again, and found many things really made sense to me. 

 

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4 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

We have something like 50 Carlo Bergonzis and I don't think too many were lost. 

Like many other valuable instruments and valuable objects,  Bergonzi violins ( maybe few ) might have been destroyed during the French revolution in 1789, when anything related to aristocracy, was considered with hatred and often destined to be destroyed, and their owners were often killed.

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13 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

I found something interesting about ancient fret saws. Apparently it was invented by a German clock maker and further developed to cut wood by Andre Charles Boulle, cabinet maker to Louis XIV.

That's interesting.  I have no opinion of whether these are actually Stradivari's clamps, but I always thought the saw cuts on these tools (inside surfaces) looked like they were made by machine.

1858600649_stradbarclamp.png.01c56768f5822d6024df4c039a78c00a.png

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I think that the Strad workshop produced violin parts in batches. So that a worker could cut several -for example; f-holes- in one go. That would speed up the process quite a bit. The batches could even be finished outside of the main workshop, sort of like in a cottage industry. 

In a smaller workshop it -perhaps- makes more sense to make each instrument individually.

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13 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

That's the point, personality and good taste plus high performance quality. Not so easy at a peak production rate of 16 violins and 1.5 cellos per year.

and why did only very few makers of the rest of the crowd not work at the same precision level?

 Pietro Guarneri Mantova made only very few instruments, Giovanni Battista Gabrielle is the same. Carlo Bergonzi who worked definitely at the same level made maybe 3-4 instruments per year. If you multiply this by 2 because Strad was aided by at least Francesco, you get to 8 instruments. 

Sorry, not a red herring to me.

 

 

If you had only to make new instruments, and worked a solid week of say 50 hours, how many would you expect to make in a year? 

I simply don't know how many instruments by lesser makers have been lost or destroyed over the centuries, but I imagine it's a great number, probably the majority of them. The fact that so many Strads have survived is surely because they were treasured from the beginning.

Why do you think that quality suffers as production grows? I would say that quality suffers much more as the numbers produced fall too far. Constant practice allows a craftsman to work fluently and with a certainty that produces great work.

If these people were earning their livings from making, I can only think that they made fewer instruments because they had no market, or were growing old and blind.

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I have numbers, if anyone cares. When I worked at W H Lee (it was both a production shop making student violins, and also had a group of individual makers working under their own names as well), one year I made 27 violins by myself AND set up 300. I got a setup--pegs, nut adjust, post, bridge--down to doing 10 a day at the same quality level I had to maintain at B&F, through lots and lots of practice, which means that part of the job took one month of my year. Pushed, now, I can cut a really nice bridge in 20 minutes. I learned doing bars and neck sets fast by grabbing piles of a dozen or two from other makers, and doing their work for them, which quickly brought me up to a much higher skill level than when as a restorer I did one every month or two (that's what was the case with the setup things I mentioned above, too).

A Very Famous Name at the shop made 55 violins, year in, year out, with one assistant. A cello maker there who's been making cellos now for decades was working at a speed you wouldn't believe--still working, 30 years later, a few weeks ago he brought one by that had taken him one week--fast for him, but possible. Another maker and I had a race once, and he made an instrument in the white in 24 hours---at 27 hours, I lost.

These aren't junk instruments--these are well-know and respected makers. As Conor says, the more you do, the faster you get, and better with less fuss and less thought. There are many jobs now that I don't use a caliper for. I didn't belive him when once I showed something to my boss at B&F and he commented that it was 0.2mm too thick (and he was right) but I see that now. I haven't made many lately, but started one last week and was surprised how little I had to think about mundane jobs like joining plates (10 minutes to glued, if that), making a rib set. When those things do themselves, you have a lot more energy and time to direct to the "artistic" things.

I believe there's a story in one of the Hill books about either Tubbs or Dodd coming into the Hill bow shop one day, looking around, calling them slackers, and then making six finished bow sticks in one day to prove that it could be done, in exchange for a bottle of whiskey. That's the way that people who are real pros work.

Regarding those low-production makers, many of them are documented as having had other full time jobs. Especially common was a real career as a violinist. It's assumed that Carlo Bergonzi was doing piece work for other makers, and his hand is easily visible in many later Strad instruments.

Relative to something said earlier, the last number I got from Bob Bein before he died was that he assumed he would soon arrive at 175  del Gesus. In the intervening 10 years I am aware of a few more coming out of the woodwork.

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55 minutes ago, Michael Darnton said:

I have numbers, if anyone cares. When I worked at W H Lee (it was both a production shop making student violins, and also had a group of individual makers working under their own names as well), one year I made 27 violins by myself AND set up 300. I got a setup--pegs, nut adjust, post, bridge--down to doing 10 a day at the same quality level I had to maintain at B&F, through lots and lots of practice, which means that part of the job took one month of my year. Pushed, now, I can cut a really nice bridge in 20 minutes. I learned doing bars and neck sets fast by grabbing piles of a dozen or two from other makers, and doing their work for them, which quickly brought me up to a much higher skill level than when as a restorer I did one every month or two (that's what was the case with the setup things I mentioned above, too).

A Very Famous Name at the shop made 55 violins, year in, year out, with one assistant. A cello maker there who's been making cellos now for decades was working at a speed you wouldn't believe--still working, 30 years later, a few weeks ago he brought one by that had taken him one week--fast for him, but possible. Another maker and I had a race once, and he made an instrument in the white in 24 hours---at 27 hours, I lost.

These aren't junk instruments--these are well-know and respected makers. As Conor says, the more you do, the faster you get, and better with less fuss and less thought. There are many jobs now that I don't use a caliper for. I didn't belive him when once I showed something to my boss at B&F and he commented that it was 0.2mm too thick (and he was right) but I see that now. I haven't made many lately, but started one last week and was surprised how little I had to think about mundane jobs like joining plates (10 minutes to glued, if that), making a rib set. When those things do themselves, you have a lot more energy and time to direct to the "artistic" things.

I believe there's a story in one of the Hill books about either Tubbs or Dodd coming into the Hill bow shop one day, looking around, calling them slackers, and then making six finished bow sticks in one day to prove that it could be done, in exchange for a bottle of whiskey. That's the way that people who are real pros work.

Regarding those low-production makers, many of them are documented as having had other full time jobs. Especially common was a real career as a violinist. It's assumed that Carlo Bergonzi was doing piece work for other makers, and his hand is easily visible in many later Strad instruments.

Sure,  that is what you can do if you think at the extreme. Do you still work at this speed? How are those fast instruments valued on the market? Do they have recognizable signature features?

BUT why wasn't everyone producing at the same level as Strad the same number of instruments?

Guadagnini is pretty similar for active years and was aided by one of his sons. Number of instruments is similar, quality never reaches the sophistication of Strad and the speedier he gets at the end of his life, the sloppier he works.

Giobatta Morassi claims to have made 1000 instruments. I simply can't see him at the same level as Strad.

 

 

 

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Well, Strad got a lot sloppier at the end, too. That's nothing about speed, everything about age. 

I think I am easily capable of working at my previous speed, but I no longer find that interesting, I can do a quick setup and often do. In fact, I usually do our rental violin setups because it doesn't make sense to pay someone else in the shop for hours for jobs I do in minutes. I did a top quality bridge for a very expensive violin the other day in 50 minutes, beginning to playing. I know that because I was also having a conversation with the owner the whole time (do I get minutes off for that?), and he didn't tell me he was timing me until I was done. So I wasn't even trying to rush. The allowed B&F time for that job was 2.5 hours while I was there, and then went up to more, later. Most of the speed I have lost is because I no longer care to rush, but pressed, sure I can come close to matching what I used to do. I'll be 70 in a few months, and rushing just to rush no longer is interesting. I still carve a scroll in about three or four hours, though.

Why was not everyone making at Strad's rate? Because Strad was flooding the market, perhaps? One thing to notice is that the production of del Gesu went up rapidly as Stradivari approached being nearly dead, and so does the quality of wood del Gesu was buying, indicating he was more successful than before. By that time, the other makers in Cremona had just about given up trying to make a living, but del Gesu managed to hang on until the old man died, then take over. So there are 650 strads, for over 70 years of work. Del Gesu's 175 in less than 20 years looks fine to me--about up with Strad, in fact.

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3 minutes ago, Michael Darnton said:

Well, Strad got a lot sloppier at the end, too. That's nothing about speed, everything about age. 

I think I am easily capable of working at my previous speed, but I no longer find that interesting, I can do a quick setup and often do. In fact, I usually do our rental violin setups because it doesn't make sense to pay someone else in the shop for hours for jobs I do in minutes. I did a top quality bridge for a very expensive violin the other day in 50 minutes, beginning to playing. I know that because I was also having a conversation with the owner the whole time (do I get minutes off for that?), and he didn't tell me he was timing me until I was done. So I wasn't even trying to rush. The allowed B&F time for that job was 2.5 hours while I was there, and then went up to more, later. Most of the speed I have lost is because I no longer care to rush, but pressed, sure I can come close to matching what I used to do. I'll be 70 in a few months, and rushing just to rush no longer is interesting. I still carve a scroll in about three or four hours, though.

Why was not everyone making at Strad's rate? Because Strad was flooding the market, perhaps? One thing to notice is that the production of del Gesu went up rapidly as Stradivari approached being nearly dead, and so does the quality of wood del Gesu was buying, indicating he was more successful than before. By that time, the other makers in Cremona had just about given up trying to make a living, but del Gesu managed to hang on until the old man died, then take over. So there are 650 strads, for over 70 years of work. Del Gesu's 175 in less than 20 years looks fine to me--about up with Strad, in fact.

Strads workmanship declined maybe the last 5 years or so, but still better than late Guads.

175 DGs? I thought Bob Bein came up with 116 or 117.

 

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12 hours ago, Torbjörn Zethelius said:

I think that the Strad workshop produced violin parts in batches. So that a worker could cut several -for example; f-holes- in one go. That would speed up the process quite a bit. The batches could even be finished outside of the main workshop, sort of like in a cottage industry.

Batches of 12 at a time, perhaps?   That would mean that Stradivari invented the concept of.........let's see, there's a German word for this.....somebody help me out here.  :ph34r::lol:

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