Danube Fiddler

The ground ( sealing) of the great masters - which was it ?

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I would like to repeat a quite old question after the ground or sealer of the great old-italian masters. This is, because there seems to be nearly a complete agreement on MN, that the findings of varnish-researchers of the last decade should be wrong.

So far as I have read, Echard et al found out in some prominent instruments of the musée de la cité in Paris, that Stradivari used a filler of pure oxygenized drying oil - no other ingredients could be detected. This oil-pore-filling could be found in several places of instruments as also different instruments.

Brandmeir/Greiner write in their Strad-varnish-book of a probable ground of just oil-varnish, they could detect ( which however could have quite similar properties like a high-viscous cooked-pure oil [ eventually with some driers ] ) They also could detect a protein- pretreatment quite surely, however this didn´t act as a pore-filler. Brandmeirs findings as reported in the Guadagnini-book were similar and additional showing, that Guadagninis ground even was penetrating enough to be seen and detected on some inner surfaces of the ribs.

So state of the research in my sight is :

The old-italian ground in the sense of a filler was either a pure boiled drying oil ( eventually only sun-dried)  or an oil-varnish consisting of a drying oil and a resin ( most probably a conifer resin). This drying oil or oil-varnish has typically a yellow-whitish fluorescence in UV-light - it is to see in a really big number of wood/varnish-samples in the cellular spaces as also in filled vascular rays.

A protein-pretreatment is quite probable, however was not the pore-filler.

Which are your explanations and opinions ?

 

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Here we go with that whole words thing.  (Not referring to your post, Danube, but rather what I am about to write.)  When is a sealer not a filler?  Can the protein pre-treatment be said to be a sealer because it acts as a barrier to the varnish, but does not penetrate down into the pores as a filler would?  And if the protein seals the wood, what purpose is served by filling the pores with something originally fluid (whether or not the filler is indeed more fluid than the sealer)?

And if the answer is "read Brandmair-Greiner", I will remain in the dark because it is the rare Stradivari-related book that I have NOT purchased.

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1 hour ago, Julian Cossmann Cooke said:

Here we go with that whole words thing.  (Not referring to your post, Danube, but rather what I am about to write.)  When is a sealer not a filler?  Can the protein pre-treatment be said to be a sealer because it acts as a barrier to the varnish, but does not penetrate down into the pores as a filler would?  And if the protein seals the wood, what purpose is served by filling the pores with something originally fluid (whether or not the filler is indeed more fluid than the sealer)?

And if the answer is "read Brandmair-Greiner", I will remain in the dark because it is the rare Stradivari-related book that I have NOT purchased.

Hi Julian,

your thoughts about difference between sealing and filling are very interesting.

At the end there must be fulfilled one central need, that´s to prevent the penetration of wood by coloured varnish in a sufficient degree - probably a total prevention is not needed, because only a very small penetration of coloured varnish could even produce desirable visual effects.

In the Brandmeir exploration of Guadagninis instruments is shown a filling of vessels, rays and intracellular spaces by : 

- a darker fluorescending substance, especially in the cell-rows near the surface       and

- a yellowish/whitish fluorescending substance ( also found in deeper cell-rows)      and

- some particulate materials, by Brandmeir interpreted especially as "filler" ( particle size < 30 um )

So following your idea, there could have been a primary treatment, which didn´t fill the bigger vessels and rays but closed the smaller intercellular passages to a certain degree. However this first treatment could not totally prevent a deeper penetration of the wood by e.g. a following oil- varnish or boiled oil - but probably reduce it somewhat ( actually the Guadagninis were penetrated in maple easily until a depth of 2/10 mm ! ).

Interesting in the acoustical sense is, that finally in a lot of wood - interspaces there is an dried oil or oil-varnish. On the sample - pictures it seems to me, that there is more oil or oil-varnish in the wood than in the covering surface-building layer ( this is often extremely thin << 50 um).

Also interesting for me is, that most MN-members refuse the idea of an oil- filling, which apparently was used by the old masters and actually penetrated the wood in a certain degree, even if there has been a  pre-treatment.

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Even if all the researchers agreed that a drying oil or oil varnish was used as the sealer/filler/whatever on the wood, the acoustic consequences would concern me until someone comes up with tests showing that the acoustic properties of the varnish in the first couple of years is about the same as after 300 years.  For all we know, Cremonese fiddles sounded dead for decades after they were made, and that's not what I'm after.

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17 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

  For all we know, Cremonese fiddles sounded dead for decades after they were made, and that's not what I'm after.

Hi Don,

I am afraid not to understand this sentence of you.    You believe, it would be common knowledge, that Cremonese fiddles didn´t sound well in the first decades ? 

Possibly until the oil became sufficient hard and lost most of its damping ?

As another member here wrote some time ago, linseed oil changes quite fast sufficient hard for good sound. If only that would be necessary, one could even accelerate it by giving more driers. 

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7 minutes ago, Danube Fiddler said:

1. In the Brandmeir exploration of Guadagninis instruments is shown a filling of vessels, rays and intracellular spaces by : 

- a darker fluorescending substance, especially in the cell-rows near the surface       and

- a yellowish/whitish fluorescending substance ( also found in deeper cell-rows)      and

- some particulate materials, by Brandmeir interpreted especially as "filler" ( particle size < 30 um )

2. Also interesting for me is, that most MN-members refuse the idea of an oil- filling, which apparently was used by the old masters and actually penetrated the wood in a certain degree, even if there has been a  pre-treatment.

1.  I'm typing off the cuff as usual but I've always understood a Guadagnini finish to be spirit.  Am I wrong?  If I'm not wrong then the above sounds like a shellac of sorts.  Yellowish/whitish sounds like elemi and or saffron.  Particulate matter for filler?  I have no helpful thoughts.

2.  Well, I've tried laying down varnish without sealer to block varnish penetration.  Sometimes I like what I sees too.  But after mil thickness is built up to make a level shiny colorful surface I think that has to be entirely too much material/liquid going into the wood.  Otoh, if a pore block sealer is laid down first then the coloring scheme plan is all shot to heck.  No color build because of no penetration into wood.  Changes will have to be made early rather than later for acceptabilty purposes. 

I advocate for sealer first for no oil penetration, then paintakenly make your colored oil work one way or another without an undesirable thick, muffley, tone killing finish. 

Sometimes it's just easier to color the wood with whichever finish to get the build done and just don't worry about the sinking in the pores issue.      

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18 minutes ago, Danube Fiddler said:

You believe, it would be common knowledge, that Cremonese fiddles didn´t sound well in the first decades ? 

I don't believe there is any knowledge.  Perhaps a few anecdotes at best.  

The point is, that following a Cremonese prescription for varnish (assuming it's right in the first place) might not have any benefits in the maker's lifetime, other than the satisfaction of doing things the old way.

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1 minute ago, Don Noon said:

I don't believe there is any knowledge.  Perhaps a few anecdotes at best.  

The point is, that following a Cremonese prescription for varnish (assuming it's right in the first place) might not have any benefits in the maker's lifetime, other than the satisfaction of doing things the old way.

If we provide, that there wouldn´t be any advantages in the makers lifetime, but a significant advantage in later times, then this ground could be the "secret" - and we have a good explanation, how the great secret could go lost without anybody recognizing it.

However may also be, that an oil-ground is inferior for many decades and finally will be just equal....

Are some of your "anecdotes" historical, to read in old letters or literature ?

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27 minutes ago, Danube Fiddler said:

Are some of your "anecdotes" historical, to read in old letters or literature ?

I don't have any references, just vaguely recalled stuff from whoknowswhere.

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1 hour ago, Don Noon said:

I don't have any references, just vaguely recalled stuff from whoknowswhere.

Perhaps the papers of Count Cozio.  I think I remember the Hills referencing him though I am not sure in connection with sound. 

Even with contemporaneous accounts, the relationship between the standards and tastes then and now is problematic.  Even if Cozio or someone else described the tone of a Stradivari as rich and penetrating, that only has meaning in the context of other instruments of that time.  Our frame of reference of course is different.  Beyond that, even in our day, you would have a hard time getting people to agree on a lexicon of terms to describe violin tonal qualities.

These are some of the reasons why I choose not to seek answers to questions of what The Ancients used on their instruments but rather to do enough experimentation, i.e. build enough instruments, to better understand what works today.  The first approach is not wrong.  It just introduces too many new variables into a process that already has more than enough.  One person's opinion.

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6 hours ago, Don Noon said:

For all we know, Cremonese fiddles sounded dead for decades after they were made, and that's not what I'm after.

It's true that we can't go back in a time machine to find out how Cremonese instruments sounded 300 years ago.

I suspect that if violin-makers today find a sealer that makes their violins sound today like the Cremonese instruments sound today, they will feel they found the right one, and if their instruments don't sound so good 300 years from now, well, it will be too late then for them to correct their mistake.

We do know, though, that Stradivari was quite successful and popular as a violin maker. So his instruments can't have sounded all that bad when they were new. It is asking too much of coincidence to think that a bumbling fool who made terrible sounding violins both somehow managed to become wealthy due to his violins getting an undeserved popularity.... and then, by sheer accident, the effects of age on the wood of his violins turn them into things which appear to have been made by "a genius beyond human understanding", to quote the admittedly purple prose of Maxim Vengerov.

Even if his violins are not all their partisans claim, they must have been pretty good even when they were originally made. I think we do "know" that with about as much certainty as we can know anything about history.

EDIT: I should make it clear, though, that it could well be my fault that I am not understanding what you have written properly.

Edited by Quadibloc
Clarification

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Just want to mention boiled and raw linseed oil behave quite differently.  Raw linseed oil will absorb oxygen when expose to air and  will swell forming large molecules, filling holes etc. Properly boiled linseed oil will  just form the coat you apply.

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3 hours ago, Quadibloc said:

We do know, though, that Stradivari was quite successful and popular as a violin maker. So his instruments can't have sounded all that bad when they were new.

While it is impossible to tell what the desirable tone of Strad's time was, I'm sure that even just by his workmanship he would be well-known and sought after, and I likewise think that his violins sounded at least as good as anyone else's.  

Most (actually, all) of the good modern makers I have talked to do NOT use what is proposed as a Cremonese ground, which leads me to think that there is a good reason... like sounding as good as possible by today's standards, as soon as possible.

 

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13 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

Most (actually, all) of the good modern makers I have talked to do NOT use what is proposed as a Cremonese ground, which leads me to think that there is a good reason... like sounding as good as possible by today's standards, as soon as possible.

Linseed oil can be prepared in very different ways : 

1) different kinds of washing ( water / water and salt/ water and sand/ ...... )

2) cooking in different ways ( metal pot / ceramic pot/ with or without drying metalsalts ) or

3) sun - drying 

- perhaps some more things, not any longer known in our days

Eventually the old masters had a way of using a drying oil without the disadvantages, why modern makers don´t use it.

Another question could be, if all modern makers really told you, which ground they use.

 

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6 hours ago, Don Noon said:

Most (actually, all) of the good modern makers I have talked to do NOT use what is proposed as a Cremonese ground, which leads me to think that there is a good reason... like sounding as good as possible by today's standards, as soon as possible.

There, I have no reason to disagree with your knowledge.

My reading in this subject has led me to a paper which seems credible, that notes that for the desirable property of Stradivari's secret ground coat - something that will keep linseed oil from soaking into the wood, so that the violin sounds almost as good as it did in the white - you can use Polyfilla from your local hardware store, and it will work just fine, not soaking in by more than the thickness of a single layer of cells.

This is fine with me. One less problem to worry about, as one goes about the difficult task to find out what needs to be done to achieve the important virtues of the violins of Stradivari.

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14 hours ago, FredN said:

Just want to mention boiled and raw linseed oil behave quite differently.  Raw linseed oil will absorb oxygen when expose to air and  will swell forming large molecules, filling holes etc. Properly boiled linseed oil will  just form the coat you apply.

I've had better results with raw linseed oil drying hard but still giving me the look, sound and playability I want.

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20 hours ago, Don Noon said:

Even if all the researchers agreed that a drying oil or oil varnish was used as the sealer/filler/whatever on the wood, the acoustic consequences would concern me until someone comes up with tests showing that the acoustic properties of the varnish in the first couple of years is about the same as after 300 years.  For all we know, Cremonese fiddles sounded dead for decades after they were made, and that's not what I'm after.

 Do the process right and it dries quickly enough.

20 hours ago, Don Noon said:

I don't believe there is any knowledge.  Perhaps a few anecdotes at best.  

The point is, that following a Cremonese prescription for varnish (assuming it's right in the first place) might not have any benefits in the maker's lifetime, other than the satisfaction of doing things the old way.

Anecdotal evidence can be worthless or valuable depending on the source. You don't know until you try it for yourself.  It's really very simple to do. You don't even need to cook it up. Thin coats dry quickly enough. Heat and rubbing for 2 or 3 minutes at a time brings undried oil back to the surface. 

 

13 hours ago, Don Noon said:

While it is impossible to tell what the desirable tone of Strad's time was, I'm sure that even just by his workmanship he would be well-known and sought after, and I likewise think that his violins sounded at least as good as anyone else's.  

Most (actually, all) of the good modern makers I have talked to do NOT use what is proposed as a Cremonese ground, which leads me to think that there is a good reason... like sounding as good as possible by today's standards, as soon as possible.

 

The reason many don't use linseed oil ground is because it is not a current fad. The current fad is that it's a very bad idea blah blah blah, based on ignorance of how to do it properly. Yes if you allow lots of oil to soak in it's a bad idea and this had led to a school of denial founded circa 1960 which has many members.

 

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4 hours ago, sospiri said:

 Do the process right and it dries quickly enough.

Anecdotal evidence can be worthless or valuable depending on the source. You don't know until you try it for yourself.  It's really very simple to do. You don't even need to cook it up. Thin coats dry quickly enough. Heat and rubbing for 2 or 3 minutes at a time brings undried oil back to the surface. 

 

The reason many don't use linseed oil ground is because it is not a current fad. The current fad is that it's a very bad idea blah blah blah, based on ignorance of how to do it properly. Yes if you allow lots of oil to soak in it's a bad idea and this had led to a school of denial founded circa 1960 which has many members.

 

For a fellow that seems to like to argue points against conventional wisdom fervently and often, you're pretty bold about stating an opinion about a "reason" as fact.  If you restore, you have an opportunity to learn by observation... Raw linseed, applied in various ways and varied amounts, was used by some makers long before 1960 of course, so we have a little history concerning the results over time.  If you believe it works for you, or if you believe you've discovered "the secret", great... but maybe you should consider waiting several decades before claiming victory.

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We can agree that know one has planted a flag and proved they know what the ground was. The ground/sealer used in the glory days.  But we can take linseed oil or any other oil treated every way we know of place some on glass wait six months and see how it behaves, is it clear is it dry does it dry hard,hard enough. You will still be guessing but you will know more than something you read from a person who over heard a modern maker speaking about sealer/ ground. Trust but Verify, 

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22 hours ago, uncle duke said:

1.  I'm typing off the cuff as usual but I've always understood a Guadagnini finish to be spirit.  Am I wrong? 

I don´t know, what kind of varnish Guadagnini had used. However Brandmeir concluded an oil - varnish.

So far as I have read, there are some more substances of a yellowish/ withish fluorescence :

- colophon 

- dried (linseed) oil 

I don´t exactly know the fluorescence of shellac, but believe to remember that it could pe more pink-like.

Spirit for itself i.m.o. is not an important question, because anyways it evaporates. Interesting is the question, if the varnish contained a considerable amount of drying oils, because these remain ( and poymerize ) in the varnish or ground.

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41 minutes ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

 If you restore, you have an opportunity to learn by observation... Raw linseed, applied in various ways, was used by some makers long before 1960 of course, so we have a little history.  If you believe it works for you, or if you believe you've discovered "the secret", great...  but maybe you should consider waiting several decades before claiming victory.

Hi Jeffrey, 

did you observe rests of drying oils in classical instrument while restorations ?

I think, it is not necessary to wait decades in the case of linseed-oil because it doesn´t seem to have a reverse like poppy seed oil.

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2 hours ago, sospiri said:

The reason many don't use linseed oil ground is because it is not a current fad. The current fad is that it's a very bad idea blah blah blah, based on ignorance of how to do it properly. Yes if you allow lots of oil to soak in it's a bad idea and this had led to a school of denial founded circa 1960 which has many members.

To make sure I am understanding this correctly: are you saying that boiled linseed oil is suitable for use as a ground coat, while raw linseed oil is suirable for use as varnish or the base for varnish?

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http://darntonviolins.com/tag/linseed-oil/
The oil in the pan was raw oil from the art store. Art restoration books talk about linseed oil going through such changes that the age of the oil can be determined over a period of time reaching 600 years. In some of those phases, the oil varies through alcohol solubility and also insolubility, and returns to near liquid at some points. I think, then, that any casual statements about such characteristics (particularly the alcohol solubility characteristics commonly mentioned here as "proof" of oil vs spirit varnish*) may be dangerously unproven.

Fine nuances are everything. I get tired of people saying Xxxx is bad, without any qualifications of time, usage, specific types, quantities, treatment, etc, on and on, and often based on nothing except their gut instinct. One of the valuable lessons I got from my mother (when I was about  10, in this case) was the concept of amounts. She commented that one could even die from too much water or peaches, so she advised that I always do my homework about such things, and I always have. Thanks, Mom.

Many Roth violins from the 20s had an "ample" coat of linseed oil inside (and probably out) which can easily be scraped off the inside. The effect doesn't seem to me to be as horrible as people imply, in that these violins have definitely not been permanently "killed". Current prices for pre-war Roths seem to back me up on this.

There are American makers from the 40s who virtually dipped their instruments in linseed oil. I have seen one that actually had stalactites of oil hanging down inside the top Scraping the oil out of this one failed to bring it around.

Henry Lanini often coated his violins liberally with linseed oil. When there's too much, it makes a gummy layer on the inside resembling the oil in my post. Scraping that off does not make the violin work, and I can see by the appearance that he did the same to the outside: under the varnish is a healthy oil coat buildup, so I guess we can call this conclusively too much.

When Laninis just have a Roth-like coat, which is more often the case, scraping it off inside turns them into violins just as it will with Roths.

I have experimented with oil quite a bit this side of those examples. Oil did not appear to affect the sound too much compared with my violins with no oil. There are a lot of ways to put oil on. It is possible, for instance, totally seal a violin with less than 5 (measured) drops of oil, counting what gets left on the applicator! I don't see how this could have any tonal effect worth talking about, and it has not, for me. In the 70s there was talk about the possibility of sealing violins by rubbing a walnut meat over the wood to leave a layer of walnut oil. I never tried that, but that would be similar. Using this type of oil coating, it's important--crucial--to let the first coat dry completely before the second, and the second again before varnishing, or the subsequent coat will just pick up the previous and carry it along inside, rather than it acting as an insoluble sealing layer. I'd say a week in the light box is a bare minimum, by real experience.

One lightly oiled Darnton violin, not necessarily recorded under ideal circumstances, and I'm sorry it's just a couple of notes: 

 

 

* [Bill Fulton, the varnish experimenter, mentioned somewhere a test he had performed aging oil varnish in the sun on the dashboard of his car. He commented that initially, after curing for a couple of months, it was not alcohol soluble, but that some years later it became soluble again. This is my experience, also]

 

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30 minutes ago, Danube Fiddler said:

1.  I don´t exactly know the fluorescence of shellac, but believe to remember that it could pe more pink-like.

2.  .....if the varnish contained a considerable amount of drying oils, because these remain ( and poymerize ) in the varnish or ground.

1.  I don't know either but I'm willing to bet for present day violin making a gold shaded shellac may be all we need for a suitable ground.  If one does a little work on his own he could make a ever so slightly flourescent edged purplely hued oil.  I can see the purple when cooking but where it goes after the cook is the question though this stuff would be above a ground or sealer.

2.   If one could get the ingredient amount right, including color, into his/her oil varnish cook then there's the possibility of not even needing a ground.  The only thing that may be wrong with that is chippyness issues down the road.  A flexible oil varnish is needed, not a hard, stiff, short oiled one.  

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